Francis Ford Coppola was unwavering. He owned the house in Rutherford, where John Daniel Jr., resided. He bought the grand old château nearby and much of the surrounding vineyard land. He was determined to restore the once-famous property to its original glory and make great wines. He'd set ambitious goals. The only missing piece: the name.
On Monday, the famous filmaker-vintner announced a deal that seems to close the saga of Inglenook's demise. At least for the time being. With Coppola one is never sure.
After vowing to do so for many years, Coppola has acquired the Inglenook trademark from its most recent owners, the Wine Group. In his mind, the property—the house, château and vineyards—always were Inglenook, in spirit and physical presence. He never felt comfortable with anything other than Inglenook.
Lacking the name, he gave the property an identity, remodeling the château and grounds. He attached his name to that of Inglenook's founder, Gustav Niebaum, creating Niebaum-Coppola. Later it became known as Rubicon Estate. Soon it will once again be known as Inglenook.
Inglenook is a cornerstone of Napa Valley. It is one of the most spectacular stone edifices in the valley and, for decades, set a standard of excellence for winemaking. The Cabernets from the Daniel era, from the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 to the early 1960s, were as good as any wines made anywhere at any time.
But Inglenook faltered. When faced with financial ruin, Daniel sold Inglenook and, from there, despite efforts to revive the name and its reputation, the wines slowly declined. The Inglenook brand became a mass-produced jug wine that hardly mattered.
The fate of Inglenook became a symbol of the perils of corporate ownership, where volume and revenue trumped quality. Inglenook sold millions of cases of wine over the years and fattened the bottom line of its owners.
Robert Mondavi, one of Daniel's friends, vowed that wouldn't happen to his winery. Yet when Robert Mondavi Winery went public in 1993, it fell prey to the dual pistons of increasing production and profits. Mondavi's name, like that of Inglenook's, was stretched too thin, from $10 Coastal wines to $125 reserves. Inexpensive wines turned profits and paid for the fancier Napa versions. Mondavi feared that cycle of mass production would cannibalize the Napa brand, and it did.
What's been so fascinating watching Coppola reconstruct Inglenook is that he understands its importance and potential. Moreover, he also has the money to pursue his dream and preserve this historic property. He is bringing a new winemaker on board: Bordeaux's Philippe Bascaules is leaving Château Margaux to assume the position of estate manager and winemaker. That choice is fitting. Inglenook is to Napa what Margaux is to Bordeaux—one of wine's crown jewels.
It's hard not to root for Coppola. Inglenook, the château, has long been a huge presence in Napa. For decades the wines made under the Inglenook label didn't matter. Now they will, once again.
This is a turn of events many hoped for, yet none thought possible. Except for those who knew Mr. Coppola and what can happen when he puts his mind to something. He dreams big dreams and lives them too.
Elton Sims — San Diego, CA — April 13, 2011 5:42pm ET
Richard Gangel — San Francisco — April 13, 2011 6:07pm ET
David Rapoport — CA — April 13, 2011 7:13pm ET
Mary Jane Phillips — Farmington Hills, MI — April 14, 2011 10:41am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 14, 2011 11:53am ET
John B Vlahos — Cupertino Ca. — April 14, 2011 1:38pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 14, 2011 1:50pm ET
Lora Pallatto — San Francisco, CA — April 14, 2011 4:16pm ET
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