More than three decades after the historic wine estate was stripped of its name, Inglenook has been reunited with the Rutherford wine brand launched in 1879 by Finnish sea captain Gustave Niebaum.
Making good on a promise he made years ago, celebrated filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola this week acquired the Inglenook trademark from the Wine Group, noting that his Rubicon Estate will from now on be known by its historic name.
Although the property had been divided and sold off, it was Coppola who put the pieces back together 15 years ago, vowing to tear down a despised barrel cellar of more recent vintage and reunite property and brand. He's now accomplished both.
In addition, Coppola has successfully recruited noted Bordeaux winemaker Philippe Bascaules to take the reins this summer as estate manager and winemaker, succeeding winemaker Scott McLeod, who resigned last year.
Rubicon will continue to be the proprietary name of Inglenook's flagship wine, and Bascaules will work closely with Stéphane Derenoncourt, the Pomerol-based winemaking consultant who has been the consulting winemaker for the 2008 and subsequent vintages.
"Welcoming a preeminent winemaker like Philippe Bascaules to the renamed Inglenook expresses my intention to honor the estate's heritage and restore its legacy," Coppola declared in a statement.
"There's an interesting idea that the owner of a wine estate is part of the terroir, and it's in this spirit that I've spent the last year assessing Inglenook's future needs, including recruiting Philippe Bascaules, invigorating the vineyards, planning a new state-of-the-art winemaking facility and focusing on what it would take to achieve my goal of restoring this property into America's greatest wine estate."
At Chateau Mârgaux, one of France's five First Growth Bordeaux wineries, Bascaules oversaw the vineyards and cellars and worked alongside technical director Paul Pontallier. Bascaules, who has an agricultural engineering degree, specializing in oenology, from the graduate school of agronomy in Montpellier, France, began his career at Chateau Mârgaux as the assistant to the estate director.
"I was charmed by the beauty of the estate and its unique environment," said Bascaules, who spent more than two decades at Chateau Mârgaux. "I found the tasting of 1959 Inglenook astonishing with regard to its freshness and complexity, and when I tasted some samples of the 2009 vintage, I recognized the incredible potential of this property. I understand Francis Ford Coppola's desire to bring the quality of the wines to their fullest potential and I'm excited to explore new methods to reach this goal."
Inglenook's reputation grew after founder Niebaum's great-nephew John Daniel Jr. took over operations in 1939. By the late 1940s, Inglenook's wines were declared by many to be the best in the valley.
More than 1,500 acres of the property - including Niebaum's home - were acquired by Coppola in 1975 with profits from his celebrated film, "The Godfather." At the same time, the brand name and the remaining 94 acres, including the historic winery, were bought by Heublein, Inc., which began making lower quality wines produced elsewhere under the Inglenook Navalle label.
Heublein was later bought by RJR Nabisco, then sold to Grand Metropolitan in 1987. Heublein sold the winery to the Canandaigua Wine Company (which later became Constellation Brands) in 1994. Canandaigua consolidated winemaking operations elsewhere, and sold the remaining acreage and winery to Coppola in 1995. Coppola renamed it the Rubicon Estate Winery.
Three years ago, The Wine Group acquired the Inglenook brand from Constellation Brands in a deal that included Almaden Vineyards and Paul Masson Winery.
Financial terms of this week's trademark purchase by Coppola were not disclosed.
"We are pleased to see the revered Inglenook brand reunited with its historic estate under the Coppola family's stewardship," said David Kent, CEO of The Wine Group. "This is a proud moment for the California wine industry."
Since only the intellectual property of Inglenook brand is being transferred, The Wine Group intends to transition the current wines sold under the brand name to alternative labels over the coming months.
The Wine Group, known for its Franzia "wine in a box," is the world's third-largest wine company, by volume, behind Constellation Brands and the E&J Gallo Winery.