A Wine Night to Remember

Sun Valley Spotlights Boutique Vintners

Written By Madeline Garfolo

Photos By Cooper Morton

Wine can be a polarizing topic. When it surfaces in conversation, it has a way of immediately singling out the glass-swirling wine-buffs in the vicinity, and silencing the rest. Luckily, Cyril Chappellet, the second generation owner of Chappellet Winery in Napa Valley, is here to level the playing field for academics and enthusiasts alike. Standing at least a head taller than most in the room, he remarks decisively that he’s “not here to tell you what’s going on in your mouth.” He will instead offer a rare adventure behind the scenes of wine-making at Chappellet that will leave all participants parting as good friends. This is Sun Valley Resort’s final wine dinner of 2019, which is making its first foray as an annual event, kicking off a month-long celebration of boutique vintners this June.

Stepping into the warm light and rough-hewn beams of Trail Creek Cabin is the first tip-off that you’re in for something special. Once a Hemingway haunt, it is one of the locaations where For Whom the Bell Tolls was written. Guests arrive, sipping sparkling wine, silhouetted against a central window framing Bald Mountain’s snow-striped ridges, and settle into the hum of getting to know one another. A meticulously-planned 5 course production by Sun Valley Resort head chef Derek Gallegos and Chappellet, is about to unfold. 

The audience instinctively takes their seats, fitting in where they may among the 4 long tables. As Cyril assumes his place as maestro, the first wine is poured: the Calesa 2017 chardonnay, which contradicts all classic California chardonnay hallmarks. It’s delicate and floral rather than heavy with fruit flavors and the vanilla notes of oak, allowing the first course of halibut bathed in a silky star anise-infused beurre blanc to shine. The second chardonnay of the evening is being poured as a counterpoint to the first, and Cyril reveals, “These wines were made in exactly the same way, the only difference is the grapes.” Each began with a cold ferment to which yeast was added, followed by aging in barrels — 50% of the time in new oak, and the final 50% spent in old oak—but the grapes were harvested from different locations at different times. Though they have undergone the same treatment, the resulting 2 chardonnays are radically different. “When we make wine, we want the fruit to be the dominant feature, not the oak,” Cyril explains. 

Deep ruby and garnet colored reds grace the table as the main courses are served. Chappellet — known for its multifaceted red wines — is located in one of the most revered Bordeaux regions of Napa Valley, and scored an elusive 100 points for its Estate ‘Hideaway’ Cabernet Sauvignon in 2016. Somewhere between the second and third courses — comprised of a meltingly braised pork Coppa served with a sweet tart cherry jus, and a locally sourced beef tenderloin that seems to bloom on the plate between fresh nasturtium leaves and small ravioli blanketed in fontina. The sound of Cyril’s voice rouses guests out of a satisfied daze. He notes, to the surprise of many, that the first of the two reds is a pinot noir. Usually a grape with a dominant acidity and a lighter juicier profile, the Chappellet Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir (2017) explodes with the velvet texture and rich spiced complexity of a much more mature wine. “We are cabernet-makers,” he remarks by way of explanation. 

Transformed by good food and wine, members of the crowd are bumping elbows, talking over one another and refilling each other’s glasses. Cyril calls attention to the front. “Social media is great, but more often than not, it’s just word of mouth that helps people hear about us.” Pausing for effect, he looks around the room with a smile. “Luckily, very few people drink wine alone.” And while laughter from the crowd greets his little joke, a more important message resonates: traditions don’t make themselves. During wine month this June, Sun Valley will be hosting $5 wine tastings at the Duchin Lounge, offering up many opportunities to celebrate boutique vintners nationwide. So, whether you’re an aficionado or simply an amateur, don’t be afraid to sit down, rub elbows, and keep these traditions going.

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