Inglenook Rubicon Estate has a long, dramatic history. Before it was owned by movie director Francis Ford Coppola it was the Inglenook Winery. My experience with Inglenook started back in the 70's. I was in college and we drank a lot of Inglenook Navalle wine. We didn't know that Inglenook once made fine wines, and we didn't care - it was cheap, tasted best on ice, and was available at the corner 7/11.
It was around this time that I made a trek to Napa to see where this magical nectar of $3.99 jug wine was made. Imagine my surprise when I pulled up to the beautiful estate, looking more like a European chateau than a jug wine factory. An old world stone building that reeked of wealth and history - they made my favorite cheap wine? Whassup with that?
After a bit of research I learned that Inglenook was founded by a wealthy and worldly sea captain named Gustave Niebaum in 1879. Niebaum had a passion for making fine wines, and ironically, not in large quantities. He died in 1908, but the vision of creating "no compromise" wines was carried on by his widow Susan, and then his great nephew, John Daniel Jr. Staying the course set by Niebaum, by the 1940's Inglenook was known for making some of the finest wines in the valley.
But in 1964, the unthinkable happened - John Daniel Jr., now in his 50's and, incredibly, married to a teetotaler woman, sold Inglenook to United Vintners, the company known best for producing the bulk wine Italian Swiss Colony. Ninety acres and the Inglenook chateau were sold for $1.2 million in 1964.
The promise to continue on with the traditions started by Captain Niebaum and perfected by Daniels were quickly forgotten, replaced with a cheap wine made in Central California. By 1969, the Inglenook identity of fine wines was all but forgotten and the name and property were sold for $100 million to Heublein, the spirits company best know for making Smirnoff. To them, Inglenook's value was its brand name, not its history. Inglenook was sold two more times and by 1989 the Napa winery famous for it's prized vines no longer made any wine at its Napa winery.
As fate would have it, in 1975 Francis Ford Coppola, looking for a small house to buy in Napa, bought the original Niebaum home and surrounding vineyard. Flush with profits from his movie The Godfather II, he bought it with the dream of returning Inglenook to its original glory.
The Inglenook property was set for a rebound, but not without a few rocky roads ahead. Coppola, understanding the marketability of his movie background, transformed part of the winery into a movie museum with old scripts and costumes. The tourists swarmed the grand old estate like locusts, snapping pictures like the paparazzi at a Britney Spears wedding. In a way, Coppola's efforts to save Inglenook seemed almost as misguided as Heublein's quest to turn it into a jug wine. But luckily, Coppola wised up.
Enter the outrageous tasting fee. This cleared the pool faster than Rosie O'Donnel in a bikini. Lookie-loo's more interested in the gift shop than wine took Coppola off their A-list and the crowds thinned down to a more reasonable level. The Niebaum-Coppola name was retired, replaced with Rubicon, a throwback to the previous era and a commitment from Coppola to return the wines to its former glory.
The movie paraphernalia was thinned down, turning the focus back on the fine wine legacy of Niebaum and Daniels. And Coppola has successfully turned the estate around. In 2011, Coppola changed the Rubicon name back to Inglenook, a grand statement to suggest that the wines have returned to their original glory.
The basic tasting fee gets you full access to the grounds and chateau. You'll easily spend an hour here just looking at the various displays and the beautiful gift shop. Upstairs is a tasteful collection of Coppola's vast collection of film history, from early projectors and slides to the original Tucker car. OK, some might say that this has very little to do with wine but it's fascinating nonetheless and a legitimate new chapter in Napa history. Loosen up, dude, you're on vacation!
So spend some time at Rubicon. You'll feel like you're somewhere in Europe with the Old World architecture inside the famous chateau. Outside, the gravel pathways lined with mature oaks, the sound of the large water fountain splashing in the background, the bistro tables where you can relax with a good glass of wine, it's time to sit back and relax and appreciate the sheer beauty of this place.
Inglenook was one of the most important wineries in Napa and Rubicon has successfully taken what was once broken and returned it to its original glory. If you've never been - or if it's been a while - you owe it to yourself to make Rubicon an essential stop on your Napa vacation.
More info at Rubicon Estates website!
Local Wally, 2013
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