Molly Chappellet on Sustainable Farming, Her Favorite Wine and Advice for Aspiring Vintners
Molly Chappellet taught her six young children exactly how she wanted them to respond to her requests: “The answer’s yes, what’s the question?” But now that they are grown—and running the family business—the tables have turned. “I have to retrain myself,” she told Fortune in an interview. “I had never envisioned taking orders from my children!” But such is the fate of Chappellet, co-founder of the renowned Chappellet Winery in Napa (St. Helena, CA?). She and her husband, Donn, have been living on the vineyard, raising a family and making acclaimed wines for 48 years. And while Chappellet jokes about the challenges of a family business, she is clearly pleased to have built a company—and lifestyle—that keeps most of her children nearby and involved. “They all worked in the vineyard when they were young,” she says. “This is part of their life, and they’ve never been able to shake it.” Go to Fortune to read about how Molly and her husband combined his love of wines and her artistic vision. Here, find out more about their organic practices and Molly’s favorite Chappellet wine.
Your winery was certified organic in 2012. Where did your commitment to sustainability come from?
I think it probably came from way back in Donn’s childhood. His family had a tiny ranch in the Brights Valley near Los Angeles. They did everything naturally. They didn’t call it organic then. They didn’t use sprays or any of that. When we moved here, we certainly didn’t want to use any toxic sprays with our family. Luckily, our first winemaker was also our vineyard manager, and he agreed completely. So we’ve done that for years—that was long before everyone used the word organic or knew anything about it. We don’t get all of our electricity [through solar], but we get a majority of it. We keep adding more solar panels all the time.
Do you have a favorite wine? And what do you pair it with?
Actually I do, and it’s our Chenin Blanc. It’s a light wine, and it’s a dry Chenin Blanc, so it has a little bit of tartness at the end, sort of refreshing and very fruit-like. The aroma is fabulous, like flowers. The great thing about it is it goes with almost everything. I think it’s why it became my favorite of our wines. Because as a host, I was always looking for something that would go with a luncheon, a salad, a fish, a chicken, maybe hors d'oeuvres.
You co-founded a successful winery, created a famous garden and have written several books, including one that won a James Beard Award. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I don’t know that proud is the word that I would use. I think I’m just more pleased than proud. I’m so pleased that more people are able to experience the magic on Pritchard Hill. For so many years, we didn’t have guests; with the children coming into the business, they wanted to share this place, having grown up here and realizing there’s something special here. I’m very happy that other people can experience that. And if they can’t come here, then they can experience part way by having our wines, which really reflect that.
Do you have any advice for aspiring vintners?
I don’t want to give it—it’s a little bit like the bottomless pit because everything we make goes back into the land. It goes into a new reservoir, a new road, more barrels, more tanks. It’s nice to have a big pot before you start.