Phillip Corallo-Titus was 12-years old when his father recruited him to be part of his vineyard crew. But Corallo-Titus would have gotten a pink slip if his father knew what he was up to when he was supposed to be watering the vines.
“My brothers and I would have water fights,” he said with a laugh. “When you leave junior high and high school boys alone on a farm just about anything can happen. I was just surprised nobody got hurt.”
Corallo-Titus is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Chappellet, 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay. At $35, it’s a concentrated and complex chardonnay with a silky texture.
With notes of lemon curd, brioche and ripe apple, the chardonnay is rich, yet balanced.
The winemaker said he was aiming for a house style that’s fresh, yet complex.
“We’re trying to really preserve the intrinsic quality of the grape, not mask it, and give it complexity,” he said.
Sourcing that vibrant fruit is the key, Corallo-Titus explained.
“I never felt we could compete with chardonnay with grapes grown on Pritchard Hill because the land is suited for Bordeaux varietals,” he said of a prized vineyard.
“Part of the quest was to move to cooler sites, following the funnel of wind and fog through the Petaluma Gap. We went to the southern end of Napa Valley along the San Pablo Bay.”
The winemaker said he feels suited to produce chardonnay because he’s taken by the complexity the grape can deliver.
“Chardonnay can be the most amazing, concentrated, complex, ethereal wine that can delight,” he said. “It can blow your mind.”
Wine first piqued Corallo-Titus’ interest when he was growing up. The teenager would work in the family’s St. Helena vineyard and then taste French wine at the dinner table from his father’s cellar.
Corallo-Titus, 61, studied agronomy, viticulture and enology at UC Davis, and he earned the rank of winemaker at St. Helena’s Chappellet Winery in 1990.
He said his job is to produce high quality wine rather than focus on affordability, and so he’s determined to keep a focused eye on his goals and his deep appreciation for wine.
“I find biology and chemistry really interesting because they really break down how the world works,” he explained.
“I love the aesthetics of winemaking. I love it that it’s both a scientific and an artistic process.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Chardonnays that deliver
Chappellet, 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.1% alcohol, $35. ★★★★
This is a concentrated and complex chardonnay with a silky texture. It’s got notes of lemon curd, brioche and ripe apple, and yet it’s balanced. Lingering finish. Impressive.
Landmark Vineyards, 2016 Damaris Reserve, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 14.3%, $35. ★★★★: This chardonnay is a standout because of its layered flavors buoyed by bright acidity. It has notes of pear, brioche and honeysuckle, with bright minerality. Finishes crisp.
Gary Farrell, 2015 Olivet Lane, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.6%, $45. ★★★★: A tasty, full-bodied chardonnay with notes of apple, vanilla bean and lemon zest. Nice length.
Robert Mondavi Winery, 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.5%, $24. ★★★★: A lovely chardonnay with notes of ripe apple, pear and lemon. Lightly toasted. Full-bodied, yet balanced. Well crafted.
La Crema, 2016 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 13.5%, $23. ★★★1/2: A smart chardonnay with bright fruit and layered flavors. Notes of apple, lemon and mineral, with a hint of caramel on the finish. A steal for the price.