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FrontRunners: From The Robb Cellar

After co-founding and growing a publicly traded company of more than 7,000 employees, entrepreneur Donn Chappellet took stock of his life, sold his stock in his company, and moved in the late 1960s to Napa Valley, which in those days was only beginning to revive the once-thriving wine industry that had withered in the wake of Prohibition. Determined to play a part in this renaissance, Chappellet searched for an appropriate piece of land. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he believed that hillside vineyards would produce more favorable results than those on the valley floor. With the first vintage, 1969, his instincts proved correct: Pritchard Hill, a wild and sprawling expanse of oak trees and chaparral, yielded elegant wines that combined intense fruit and classic structure. The Chappellet family’s Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon has since achieved a cult following, and their portfolio of other wines—from the delicious Chardonnay to the silky Merlot—all attest to an abiding commitment to capturing the unique flavor of place, as well as to winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus’ exceptional talents. One of the tastiest testimonies to this legacy is the Chappellet Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2003, a St.-Emilion-style Bordeaux blend containing 77 percent Cabernet Franc from vines planted in 1989. Composed in an earthier key than its celebrated sibling from the same vineyard, this elegant red entwines black cherry and berry fruit, roasted coffee, bittersweet chocolate, Lapsang Souchong tea, and the wild, slightly curry-scented fragrance of the chaparral that surrounds the vineyard. This wine’s only shortcoming is its rarity: A mere 500 cases were made, and these sell out quickly. ($60) www.chappellet.com

Amuse Bouche, the Pomerol-style blend created in 2002 by Screaming Eagle winemaker Heidi Barrett and her business partner, John Schwartz, presents a refreshing twist for collectors on several levels. Taking their cue from Mouton-Rothschild, which commissions an original work of art for its label in each vintage, Barrett and Schwartz decided to extend the concept one step further, offering buyers of the wine a limited-edition lithograph with each six-bottle case. The first vintage featured an original work by artist Guy Buffet, as does the Amuse Bouche 2003, whose label, which depicts an army of tray-bearing waiters emerging from a lip-shaped kitchen doorway, is a visual play on the wine’s name. The wine itself, a stunning Merlot- and Cabernet Franc–based masterpiece, is silky yet powerful, with intense black cherry and playful blackberry flavors coated in an earthy, luscious blanket of dark chocolate and rich coffee. The acids are exhilarating, the finish long and precise. ($1,200 for a six-bottle case and lithograph) www.amusebouchewine.com

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Photo by Simon Clay/RM Auctions
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Photo by Daniel Simon