A Vintner’s Tale

For Molly Cosgrave Chappellet ’63, co-founder with husband Donn of the Chappellet Winery in St. Helena, the family vineyard on Pritchard Hill has yielded more than perfect grapes for making award-winning cabernets. It has sparked an entrepreneurial path for Molly that capitalizes on her role as chief entertainer for the winery, mixed with her eye for art.

Molly’s business, Art Forms, designs events—everything from set designs to place settings to the food itself—for such high-profile clients as Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, and the American Institute of Wine and Food. In addition, inspired by her years entertaining at the winery, Molly has written three books: A Vineyard Garden, in which Molly shares her ideas on entertaining, gardening and life; The Romance of California Vineyards, a book co-written with daughter Carissa that features photographs of the Napa Valley; and Gardens of the Wine Country, co-written with Richard Tracy (husband of Felicia Schaps Tracy, a fellow entrepreneur featured above.)

Molly’s books and successful business were born out of a simple need she and Donn had when they first moved to their Pritchard Hill winery: to make great meals for their six children and the family’s large circle of friends.

“Each night, I set the table for 10 because there was always a child who brought a cousin or my husband would bring friends to dinner,” says Molly. “In those days, there were no restaurants in the area suitable for entertaining, so you entertained at home. I quickly learned to prepare meals that would go nicely with our wines.”

Early on, she sought to learn as much as she could about great cooking. Drawing on the mentorship of her friends and neighbors in the Napa Valley, she started the non-profit Napa Valley Cooking School, which offered cooking classes to locals. The money raised from the classes benefited an area in-resident theater group.

“I started with locals chefs and others who had a reputation for serving wonderful meals, such as Rosa Mondavi and Louis Martini,” Molly says.

For the Scripps art major and drama minor, simply making great dinners was not enough. As she perfected cooking, she turned her focus to making her dinners as aesthetically appealing as they were appetizing, which lead to her current work with Art Forms. In recent years, she’s entertained such luminaries in her home as Julia Child, Danny Kaye, Clint Eastwood, and even the once-queen of haute homemaking, Martha Stewart.

“Everything I’ve done, I started as my work in supporting the winery,” Molly says. “Being a part of the winery has pushed my imagination in directions I wouldn’t have predicted.”