The art for the Churchill Downs chocolate bars are hot off the presses. | Courtesy of Cellar Door Chocolates

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated. Cellar Door Chocolates is not the official chocolate of Churchill Downs. It is a licensee that can legally use the Kentucky Derby trademark.

Now that April is here, many area businesses shift into full Derby mode — prep, plan, produce, repeat. One local company, Cellar Door Chocolates, is taking on an extra responsibility this year since being named a licensee of Churchill Downs — meaning it can sell products with the Kentucky Derby logo on them.

Erika Chavez-Graziano

“Derby is like Christmas all over again for us,” Cellar Door owner, Erika Chavez-Graziano, tells Insider. “It’s intense.”

Chavez-Graziano has teamed up with renowned equine artist and Louisvillian Jeaneen Barnhart and her twin sister and graphic designer, Doreen Barnhart-Dehart, to create the art and package design for four products: a 16-piece box of Woodford Reserve truffles; a 16-piece box of Woodford Reserve caramels; and two separate chocolate bars. The chocolates will be available beginning Friday, April 7, with a special kick off party.

The team recently worked together on six Barnhart Bars — candy bars featuring Barnhart’s charcoal sketches of women — which were released a little before Valentine’s Day and continue to do well at all three Cellar Door locations.

And on top of these projects, Chavez-Graziano is doubling her space at Butchertown Market, expanding her kitchen and production facilities to 8,000 square feet from 4,000. She has 17 full-time employees.

The chocolatier says that while things are a bit busy at the moment — the day we stopped by, she had 2,618 emails to attend to — she is honored to be selected by Churchill Downs and believes the partnership with Barnhart has produced some quality products many may decide to collect rather than gobble down.

Jeaneen Barnhart

Chavez-Graziano suggests you keep the package art but eat the chocolate.

“The bars were designed so you can slip off Jeaneen’s art and frame it,” she says.

The images on the chocolate bar wrappers highlight Barnhart’s whimsical sketch style and show a jockey on a horse racing to the finish line. The art on the two boxes, however, show a more calm, relaxed jockey and a horse.

“I wanted something more delicate that showed how the jockey and the horse can become one,” says Chavez-Graziano.

“They show how the horse and jockey are preparing for battle — in a more relaxed state, simple black and white with a splash of color,” adds Barnhart, who says she created about 15 to 20 new drawings for the project.

The art for the 16-piece box | Courtesy of Cellar Door Chocolates

The ones that weren’t chosen by Chavez-Graziano will be on display at a new exhibit at CRAFT(s) Gallery this month.

Barnhart says she’s thrilled to have her work featured on the Derby chocolate.

“Folks from all over the world attend the Kentucky Derby, and how could I not love that massive audience?” she says. “It’s pretty awesome!”

Barnhart also received the good news that she has been appointed as one of the officially licensed artists to paint and sell images of Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown-winning horse. She was hand-selected by owner and breeder Penny Chenery after she saw a recent drawing by Barnhart, which the artist had submitted.

“This is a great honor, and knowing that Penny Chenery loves this new print is an absolute thrill,” she says. “I will be working with Secretariat folks on many levels — not only producing originals and exhibiting, but also offering limited-edition prints, T-shirts and some other fun items.”

Jeaneen Barnhart’s first Secretariat drawing | Courtesy of Jeaneen Barnhart

To celebrate the release of the chocolates and the opening of Barnhart’s “The Gestural Line of Equine” exhibit, both Cellar Door Chocolates and CRAFT(s) Gallery — only a block apart on South Fourth Street — are hosting parties at each business from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, April 7.

Chavez-Graziano and Barnhart suggest you stop by both because there will be various libations and snacks at each.

After Friday, you’ll be able to find the Kentucky Derby chocolates at all three Cellar Door locations, as well as any place Cellar Door is sold, including A Taste of Kentucky, Dundee Candies, Old Town Liquors, Wine Rack, Paul’s Fruit Markets and many more.

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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."