Interview with Phillip Corallo-Titus Chappellet Winemaker
In 1967, founders Donn and Molly Chappellet were inspired by the notion that “Bacchus loves the hills,” when they followed the advice of legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff and settled high atop Pritchard Hill, on the eastern slopes of Napa Valley.
In the years since, Chappellet Winery has earned a reputation as one of Napa Valley’s most celebrated multigenerational family wineries, and one of the pioneers of high-elevation vineyard planting. At the same time, Pritchard Hill has emerged as one of California’s most revered winegrowing sites. We interview Phillip Corallo-Titus Chappellet Winemaker to learn more.
What type of wine do you specialize in at Chappellet?
Phillip Corallo-Titus Chappellet Winemaker: While we are best known for our mountain-grown wines from Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley, most notably our Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, we also craft Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other cool-climate varietals from vineyards in Sonoma County as part of our Grower Collection.
Share a popular tasting experience at Chappellet.
Phillip Corallo-Titus: While Pritchard Hill is recognized for producing some of the world’s greatest wines, it is also a place of stunning natural beauty, with sweeping vistas, secluded mountain vineyards, and forests and meadows that unfurl down our high-mountain slopes. Because of this, any visit to Pritchard Hill is memorable.
Our Signature Tour & Tasting gives guests the chance to tour the winery and our beautiful estate and includes a tasting of our current release wines, including our iconic Signature Cabernet Sauvignon.
What makes your wine unique?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: In terms of the wines we cultivate on Pritchard Hill, they are mountain wines grown at high elevation. Our founders, Donn and Molly Chappellet were pioneers in terms of farming Cabernet Sauvignon—and other grapes—at high elevations.
Today, while only about 3% of the grapes in California are grown at elevations above 1,000 feet, the grapes from these mountain vineyards are the source for some of California’s most coveted wines—and for good reason! Mountain-grown wines offer incredible power and structure, with a level of depth and complexity that is quite remarkable.
These qualities also make them extremely age-worthy. Because Chappellet has been making wine for over half a century, we know from experience that our wines can age incredibly well for decades.
Describe your winemaking approach?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: First, because the Chappellet family believes in a continual process of reinvestment with the goal of always making our wines even better we have fully modernized our winery, adding a state-of-the-art barrel chai and numerous small fermentation tanks that allow our team to preserve the character of as many lots as he wishes each vintage.
From there, because I’ve worked with our vineyards for so long and know each block so intimately, I am able to focus on the individual characteristics of each vineyard lot.
This diversity gives us a great deal of freedom during the blending process, while also adding immense depth and complexity to our wines.
How did you get started in the wine industry?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: My father, Lee Titus, was a radiologist turned winegrower. From the age of 12, I took an interest in viticulture and worked with my father and uncles in our family’s vineyard in Napa Valley. That’s how I grew to understand how important farming is.
Wine was also something that was often shared around our family dinner table, including wines from Bordeaux, as well as some early homemade wines that featured intriguing varietals and field blends. Building on this foundation, I studied agronomy, viticulture and enology at UC Davis.
I also travelled to France to learn about the great wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, which was incredibly valuable as a young winemaker.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: Because I have had the great fortune to make wines from the same renowned estate vineyard on Pritchard Hill for more than 30 years, I think I have gained some valuable perspective.
Great wines aren’t made in a single vintage. They are the culmination of decades, and sometimes generations, of hard work and commitment.
When you have the privilege of working with a world-class site like ours, it is important to approach it with reverence and respect, while continually working to improve the site. Nature provided all of the elements to grow some of the world’s best Cabernet Sauvignon on Pritchard Hill.
For a half-century, we have been building on this foundation with the goal of making ever-more complex and fascinating wines.
We have gone block by block, assessing each section and soil type in the vineyard and optimizing them with the ideal rootstocks, varietals, clones and exposures.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: Because I grew up in wine country in a family that grew grapes I connected with the world of wine at a very early age. The truth is, wine has always been a part of my life, and my passion for it has never diminished. I still love what I do, and embrace the challenge of continuing to learn with each new vintage.
Do you have a favorite story about working at your winery?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: There have been so many wonderful moments and milestones over the years that it is difficult to pick just one.
In terms of a time that brought everyone—the Chappellet family, our amazing team and our wonderful community of customers—together, our 50th anniversary in 2017 was definitely a highlight. Not only was it an exceptional vintage, it was a year-long celebration of everything that we have accomplished on Pritchard Hill.
While it was a wonderful time to look back, it was also a time to look forward. I feel like everyone came out of our 50th anniversary year energized and ready to start writing the next chapter in the Chappellet story.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: While it is not something we talk about all of the time, I know a lot of our customers really value and appreciate how environmentally conscious we are.
Chappellet has been an environmental leader for decades. From our early adoption of cover crops and no-till farming to our solar energy program and a state-of-the-art water processing system to the organic certification of our estate vineyard in 2012, we have pioneered green practices here on Pritchard Hill.
I also believe that where Chappellet has led in terms of philanthropy, equity and making environmental stewardship an integral element of world-class winemaking, generations of vintners have followed, resulting in a more just and environmentally conscious wine industry.
Favorite Food and Wine Pairing?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: My favorite wines can change from vintage to vintage, and the truth is, I can love different wines for different reasons.
There is an old adage in the wine industry that the mark of a great winery isn’t what you achieve in great vintages, it’s what you accomplish in the most challenging ones, so sometimes that headstrong, challenging child can be the one you take the most pride and joy in.
This said, there are some wines that I always love, one of which is our Signature Chenin Blanc. We are a winery that has been championing Chenin Blanc for decades, and it is a true labor of love at Chappellet.
Our Signature Chenin Blanc has lovely weight and beautiful citrus and tropical fruit flavors, so it pairs wonderfully with lobster, seafood pasta, or roast chicken with lemon potatoes.
As our pinnacle bottling, our Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon is the ultimate expression of vineyard, and the terroir of Pritchard Hill, so I have a special affinity for it. It is an opulent, complex and incredibly well-structured wine that can go toe to toe with big bold flavors like veal chops with Cabernet sauce, rosemary-braised lamb shanks, and of course any kind of great steak fresh off the grill.
What do you enjoy about winemaking?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: I have been making wines here at Chappellet for more than 30 years, and I still love what I do.
Part of the reason is that I love the challenge of winemaking, as well as the camaraderie and the collective effort it takes on so many fronts to farm a great vineyard and make wine. Beyond that, I’ve grown to appreciate the fact that no two vintages are the same. There are always new challenges and new things to learn.
At the same time, experience matters. Every vintage teaches you lessons that can be applied to the ongoing effort to continually raise the bar.
As a winery that has received several 100-point scores it would be easy to rest on our laurels, but we never have. We are always trying to get better and better.
Do you have any winery traditions with your team?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: While not exactly a tradition, Chappellet has historically been an incubator for some great winemakers, people like our founding winemaker Philip Togni, Joe Cafaro, Tony Soter, Helen Turley, Mia Klein and Cathy Corison—all of whom came through our winery doors before me.
In the three decades I’ve been here, we have had many more wonderful winemakers learn their craft here—either through internships, or as part of our winemaking team. I like to think that time spent on Pritchard Hill has been a catalyst for many winemaking careers.
It is always exciting to be a part of helping the next generation find their place in the industry.
How does your team help you as a winemaker?
Phillip Corallo-Titus: I could go on and on about what an incredible team we have at Chappellet, and when I say team, I also include the Chappellet family.
This winery has been their passion for two generations and more than half a century, and their passion is something that inspires all of us. In terms of our vineyard and winery team, the level of knowledge, wisdom and experience we have is second to none.
Vineyard Manager Dave Pirio has been here for 36 years, and our Associate Vineyard Manager Andrew Opatz has been with us for 13 years. I’ve been with Chappellet for 31 years and my Associate Winemaker Ry Richards has been working alongside me since 2006.
Not only do we collectively have almost 100 years of experience on Pritchard Hill, I believe that we have a team in place that will carry our winery forward for decades to come.