USA – Inglenook
The history of the Inglenook estate would make an enthralling film. It is an epic tale of fortunes gained and fortunes lost, of triumph over adversity, and of love conquering all. But is there a director who could do justice to this sweeping American saga? Perhaps the proprietor himself, Francis Ford Coppola?
The film would open in the 1850s on the harsh coastline of Alaska, where the great Finnish sea captain and fur trader Gustave Niebaum is amassing his gargantuan fortune. Jump ahead two decades to San Francisco, where Niebaum finds a nice American girl to marry (the fortune probably didn’t hurt). Tension ensues when Niebaum wants to move back to the old world to establish a winery, but his wife hasn’t the stomach for the ocean voyage.
So Niebaum has to make due with establishing a vineyard in nearby Napa Valley to slake his thirst for good wine, and in 1879, he purchases a property called Inglenook on the then-unnamed Rutherford bench. It is one of the earliest vineyards to be planted in the Napa Valley and the first estate designed from scratch to produce Bordeaux varieties. Niebaum’s Inglenook quickly becomes the seat of high-quality winemaking in the valley. The greatness of the wines is recognized beyond California as well, when Inglenook takes home a gold medal at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889. In 1908, Niebaum dies. (Sad part.) He leaves the estate in the capable hands of wife.
The two decades of prohibition could be glossed over with a two-minute montage. After prohibition, Inglenook enters a second Golden Age, under the direction of Niebaum’s great nephew, John Daniel. In 1941, the fastidious Daniel produces what many, including Wine Spectator, consider to be the greatest Napa wine ever made. Daniel, guided by his motto of making wine “for pride, not profit” continues to knock it out of the park throughout the 1950s. Robert Mondavi would later call John Daniel his mentor.
In the 60s, though, Daniel’s callous approach to accounting catches up with him, and the Inglenook name must be sold off to avoid bankruptcy. The brand is purchased by the food and beverage juggernaut Heublein, which begins producing vast quantities of jug wine under the Inglenook brand. (Very sad part.)
In 1975, a young director named Francis Ford Coppola has a bit of money in his bank account from a film called The Godfather. Coppola, with fond memories of stomping on grapes in his family basement as a young boy, stumbles upon a derelict estate for sale: Inglenook. He falls in love with the property and buys it. His new neighbor Robert Mondavi invites himself over for dinner and they uncork a bottle of 1897 Inglenook from the basement. The aroma of the 80 year old wine fills the room and Mondavi informs Coppola that he owns the jewel of the Napa valley, and implores him that this grand estate must be returned to its former glory.
For more than three decades, the Coppolas work tirelessly to restore the Inglenook property back to its original dimensions, as designed by Niebaum 133 years prior. In 2011, the Inglenook brand and trademark is re-acquired, meaning the property, “once again and forever” will be known as Inglenook. The end.
We look forward to Part III, starring ex-Chateaux Margaux winemaker Philippe Bascaules.