Founded by a Finnish sea captain and today owned by the Coppola family, the Inglenook story has more romance and celebrity stardust than the rest of California’s “First Growth” wineries put together. The tale begins back in the 1870s when Gustave Niebaum arrived in Rutherford to finally settle down on dry land and purchased 500 acres of farmland. The first Inglenook vintage came shortly after in 1882 and the estate grew in stature over the next couple of generations, remaining in the family until the 1960s.
Leaner times were to follow when the winery was sold in 1964 in need of significant repair and investment. For years owner John Daniel Jr had been subsidising the estate with his personal wealth as had Gustave Niebaum before him. Following protracted period of gentle decline, the estate was set on the path to stardom when Francis and Eleanor Coppola bought the property with profits from The Godfather films.
The Coppolas brought with them a burning ambition to craft world-class wines and restore the Inglenook name to its former renown. This journey began with the first harvest in 1978 and the creation of the estate’s flagship Rubicon, a Bordeaux-style red, bearing the name of Julius Caesar’s fated river crossing which marked the point of no return.
Over the years the estate has collaborated with the who’s who of international winemaking consultants including the so-called “Dean of American Winemaking”, André Tchelistcheff, and top French vigneron Stéphane Derenoncourt. In 2011 Philippe Bascaules came on board as general manager, a role which he manages to juggle with being MD and head winemaker at Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux where he has worked for over two decades.
One of Bascaules’ first moves was to craft a 50-year plan for renewing the vineyards. Along with the celebrity status of the current owner, it is this kind of visionary thinking which has revived the fortunes of the estate and turned Inglenook into a household name for collectors of blue-chip Californian wines.
Earlier this year Inglenook announced a major cellar expansion to mark its 140thanniversary which is expected to be completed by the 2020 harvest. Included in the plans are 122 fermenting tanks, one for each of the estate’s vineyard plots. This will increase quality even further by allowing Inglenook’s winemakers to select the very best performing vineyards of each vintage and harness the unique qualities of the site’s varied terroirs.
The investment potential of Inglenook’s top wine, Rubicon, has also been boosted in recent years by a run of excellent vintages. The 2012 was awarded 95 points by Robert Parker’s acclaimed The Wine Advocate while the 2013 and 2014 vintages both received outstanding 97 point scores from American wine critic James Suckling.
Along with the romantic backstory, celebrity ownership, and superb quality, Inglenook’s relatively soft pricing compared with other top Californian estates makes the Rubicon a very attractive prospect for investors looking to diversify their portfolio. Liv-Ex list pricing on the Rubicon 2010 has jumped 83.2% over the past six months, indicating the exciting potential of mature bottlings from this world-class estate for those who enter the market early.