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An Intimate Conversation with Wine Icon and Oakland Wine Festival Board Member, Cyril Chappellet

By Shundria Reed

As we approach the Oakland Wine Festival’s Kick-Off Tasting and Soiree featuring Chappellet Vineyards and Sonoma-Loeb, and as the Third Annual Oakland Wine Festival, which will be held on July 15, draws near, my conversation with the legendary Cyril Chappellet, could not have come at a better time.  Cyril, the CEO and President of Chappellet Vineyards, and a stellar supporter, is also one of just a select few Founding Members and Sponsors of the Oakland Wine Festival.  He joins, Russ Weis, President of Silverado Vineyards, Michael Silacci, Winemaker for Opus One Winery and KR Rombauer, III, Owner of Rombauer Vineyards.

Here is our conversation:

Why Work with The Oakland Wine Festival?

Because Melody is very convincing! The other point that I would say is that the idea of a great new wine festival coming along, and with the ideas and inspirations that Melody has for that was intriguing for us.  It’s a fairly new festival. So, I am looking forward to it continuing to get better and better.

Tell Me About Oakland Wine Festival Founder, Melody Fuller, and How You Came To Meet And Work With Her.

I met Melody at an event that was done through the Napa Valley Vintners Association.  She came to one of our tastings.

How Is It That a Dinner Involving Robert Parker Jr., a Bottle of Your Infamous ’69 and Melody Land on You?

Robert Parker Jr. has continually touted that wine as being one of the finest wines in the world.  It’s a wine we have very little of.  It’s a wine that we only pull out for special events because we have so little of it.  It’s an iconic wine.  It’s a great bottle of wine, but not something we have very much of.
(Melody was invited by Robert Parker Jr. to blind taste the wines.  She accurately identified the 1969 wine and all of the other wines that they tasted together that evening.)

What Do You Think Makes California’s Wine Industry Unique?

The California wine industry has been around for a couple of hundred years.  But the French wine industry has been around a couple of thousand years.  The Italian wine industry has been around a couple of thousand years also.  In the short period of time that the California wine industry has been on the scene, the increase in quality and the building on the world stage for wines has been something that the California industry has come onto the scene of very strong and very quickly over the last couple of hundred years.  But the majority of that has happened over the last forty-five to fifty years.  The rapid incline of the rest of the world recognizing the remarkable quality of California wines is really what has set the stage.

Who Are Some of Your Favorite California Producers Outside of Your Own Portfolio?

Robert Foley is an incredible producer who produces really beautiful wine.  And obviously, just a great guy.  Another guy named Gary Pisoni makes some of the finest Pinot Noir and grows some of the best Pinot Noir grapes in the world.  He is down in Santa Lucia Highlands.  There is a plethora of really great wine companies out there.  I’d say from a sparkling wine perspective, what Iron Horse and Joy Sterling have done is remarkable and continues to show us what great sparkling wines can be made in California.  Along with what the Davies’ are doing from the sparkling wine component are remarkable.  I would say one of the biggest renegades in the industry that has been fabulous for the industry and really amazing is Jean Charles Boisset.  His entry into our industry has been staggering, marvelous and inspirational.  I have my hat off to him.

You Are a Loyal and Founding Supporter of The Work the Oakland Wine Festival Is Doing to Bring Viticulture and Enology to All.  Why Do You Think So Many Luminaries and Leaders In The Wine Industry Are Tremendous Friends And Supporters of The Oakland Wine Festival?

Once again, it goes back to Melody a great deal because she is really championing it and she is living it every day.  It is hard for me to say what other people think, but in my perspective, the reason why they are interested is because it is an area that fine wine maybe has not been as much of the everyday scene as maybe as a San Francisco area or the Los Angeles area and some of the bigger metropolitan cities that maybe get more of the attention.  To bring wine and food at a very high level to the Oakland community is a very good thing.  I think it opens doors to a different group of clients that we may not have normally seen.

Tell Me About Your Showcase on March 26, 2017.  Last Year’s Was Such a Success.  What Can Patrons Look Forward to in 2017?

People will get to try a lot of remarkable wines.  That is what they are coming to do.  In some cases the vintners will be there, in others they will have their representatives there.  I think all of those things are very positive and all things that will help to spread the word out there for the quality of Napa Valley wines and for the wines that are in the program.  It’s a wine tasting, and it’s open.  It’s a remarkable venue, and I think that the opportunity to try great wines and also to try wines with food is always terrific and a great way to show the quality of the wines that are being produced.

What Hopes Do You Have for The Future of The Oakland Wine Festival?

From a business stand point, I’d like to see it be a “must-go” for the wine industry clients and the people who really are wine and foodies for the Oakland, Berkeley and maybe even down in the Hayward area.  I hope that whole area becomes really renowned, and it [The Oakland Wine Festival] really starts to drive itself.   There is so much effort that all of the people do and that Melody does to really pull it all together.  It think that as it goes forward, I would really like to see it get out on its own feet so its starts to pull itself and it starts to bring in great speakers and great events.  So I think it’s a great spot to educate people and I want to see it continue to be successful.

When You Aren’t Dedicated to The Wine Business, What Can People Find You Doing?

Riding horses up into the mountains. Also, working with other friends to build something.  I spend a lot of my time working at the winery and doing the day-to-day.  But I find other things I enjoy doing to keep a balance in my life.

The year 2017 marks fifty years for Chappellet Vineyards and their legacy of producing some of the world’s most outstanding wines.  Since its founding in 1967, Chappellet has set the standard for quality by being awarded scores of 90+ in competitions all over the world from some of the industry’s top experts in wine.  Their passion and commitment to crafting extraordinary wines has also established Prichard Hill as one of the best regions for growing Bordeaux-styled wines, as it is now home to several cult Napa Valley wineries.

We hope to see you at the up-coming Oakland Wine Festival events:

March, 26, 2017:  Chappellet Vineyards and Sonoma-Loeb Kick-Off Tasting and Soiree
April 23, 2017:     The Wines of South Africa
May 28, 2017:      A Napa Valley Showcase
June 25, 2017:      A Sonoma County Showcase
July 15, 2017:       The Third Annual Oakland Wine Festival

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