Great Tastes

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Columnist: Karen Hart
May, 2019 Issue

Karen Hart
All articles by columnist

1991 St. Helena Hwy
Rutherford, Calif. 94573
(707) 968-1161

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tasting Fee: $55/per person
Parties limited to 8 guests
Wines Offered: 2016 RC Reserve, 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet, 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2015 Rubicon

Reservations: Strongly recommended
Picnics: No.
Pets: Yes, well-behaved dogs on a leash.

Did You Know? Finnish-born Gustave Niebaum purchased land in Napa Valley in 1879 for $48,000 and built a chateau on the property that served as the winery for 80 years before the construction of a modern facility. Niebaum’s original home remains on the property. Renowned filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola purchased a large portion of estate in 1975, but still refers to Niebaum’s house as the “captain’s home,” which is used for entertaining and serves as a museum. Francis and Eleanor live on the property today, and Francis is actively involved in the winemaking process.

[Photos courtesy of Inglenook]

Founded in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea captain and entrepreneur, Inglenook is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley. Niebaum acquired his wealth through the Alaskan Commercial Company, and settled in Rutherford to pursue his dream of winemaking. The first vintage was produced in 1882, and Niebaum opened the doors to one of the first tasting rooms in the valley in 1887, furnishing it in the grand style of his shipboard quarters. The captain lived until 1908, and his wife, Suzanne, kept the winery in business during Prohibition by producing grapes for sacramental wines.

When the captain’s grandnephew, John Daniel, Jr. inherited the chateau and vineyards in 1939, the winery had already earned international acclaim. In 1964, Daniel split the estate and sold the front vineyard, retaining the back property. His wife, Susan, wasn’t interested in pursuing the wine business, so when Daniel died in 1970, she put the remaining portion of the estate on the market. Francis and Eleanor Coppola purchased 1,500 acres of the property in 1975 and have spent more than 40 years reuniting the chateau, the original vineyards and winemaking operations. Today, a 140-year old tree still stands on the property outside one of the largest underground cellars in the valley.

After our tour, we enjoy a seated tasting in the chateau with sommelier David Hernådez, renowned French winemaker Philippe Bascaules, and associate winemaker Chris Phelps. We begin with the 2016 RC Reserve, a single-varietal wine sourced from Syrah grapevines. This is an elegant wine with a distinctive spicy aroma, and one that the winemaking team produced with the Coppola’s son, Roman, who wanted a fine Syrah to enjoy with a fine cigar.  Next, we try the 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Bascaules’ first vintage for Inglenook. “This was a most challenging vintage,” says Bascaules. “The grapes didn’t ripen and we lost a lot of fruit.” Nevertheless, this wine is fresh, balanced and easy to drink.

A native of France, Bascaules brings a European philosophy to his winemaking style, producing wines that are lower in sugar and alcohol, so you can taste the place and the vintage. “In France, wine is a beverage, and we don’t want to lose this quality,” he explains. “When you have a great wine, you should be able to drink a whole bottle.”

Both Bascaules and Phelps are committed to producing great Napa Valley wines with a nod to European style in the same tradition as Niebaum. “Winemaking is like cooking,” says Bascaules. You have to respect the fruit, he says, and it has to taste what it is. “We have a vision, and there is no separation between the place and the human touch. We want to taste the place and the vintage.” Adds Phelps, “We try to speak from the vineyard—to channel what the vineyard wants us to do.”

Next, we taste a splash of the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, a full-bodied, velvety wine. “This wine is a little more opulent—that’s the vintage,” Phelps explains. “Initially, on the palate, it’s alluring.” Indeed, it is. This is a wine to sip and enjoy with a meal. And last, we try the 2015 Rubicon, a blend created to reflect the highest-quality fruit grown on the property, produced from clonal sections of the vineyards, first planted by Niebaum more than a century ago. There’s a timeless quality to Inglenook wines. And the property and vineyards on the estate are are lush and rich with history. It’s easy to see why it captured NIebaum’s imagination as he settled in the valley to pursue his passion. “It’s a magical place where we can taste the fruit and see it evolve into wine,” says Phelps.

“The dream is to make wine like silk—light, strong, soft and dense.” adds Bascuales. Next time you’re in Napa Valley, visit Inglenook, where you can step back into time and enjoy the elegant, balanced wines still made in the Inglenook tradition.



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