I have to admit that while I was interested in trying the wines of Rubicon Estate in Napa Valley, it wasn’t exactly at the top of my list.
I assumed that a winery owned by 5 time Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola and his family would likely be “Hollywood”. I anticipated it would be a bit flashy, a bit pretentious, somewhat corporate, and probably quite grand in appearance. And I expected the wines would be equally grand in price, but lacking in substance.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover my assumptions were not true at all. Situated in Rutherford, the Rubicon Estate was absolutely gorgeous and really has nothing “Hollywood” about it. The rich history of the Estate dates back to pre-1880 when a tenacious and wealthy young sea-captain named Gustave Niebaum decided to launch a wine business. Fueled by a longing for missed European traditions, Niebaum pursued his goal “with a zeal that verged on obsession.”
In 1880, Niebaum founded Inglenook Estate with the intention of creating California wines that would be sought by wine connoisseurs and command prices similar to the most famous wines in Europe. He spared no expense and procured some of the best vineyards in the area. Within 10 years, the wines of Inglenook were receiving local and international acclaim.
Eventually, Niebaum’s wife’s grand-nephew John Daniel, Jr. took over and carried on the family tradition of creating impeccable, world-class wines. John Daniel led with a “pride not profits” motto and would not bottle a wine unless it met his strict quality standards. Unfortunately he died before he could usher in his successor. Which brings us to Francis Ford Coppola.
In 1975, Coppola found the Inglenook property while searching for a quaint summer home for his family where he could also make wine in the basement, similar to what his grandparents had done. The property was much larger than what he was initially looking for, but Coppola was both impressed with the beauty of the Estate as well as felt a deep connection to Gustave Niebaum. Coppola decided to purchase the Estate with a focus on restoring Niebaum’s original dream by creating the Niebaum-Coppola Winery.
Coppola’s goal was – and continues to be – preservation of the traditions of his predecessors through the creation of high-quality, world-class wines. It took over 20 years to “reunite all of the original vineyards and restore winemaking to the Chateau.” Once that was completed, the Estate was renamed to the current Rubicon Estate in honor of their flagship wine.
During our visit, we opted to do the Daniel Tasting ($25) which includes 5 wines, including their non-distributed Captain’s Reserve wines, as well as CASK and Rubicon. It also includes a tour of the Estate. The Daniel Tasting is available at the Rubicon Bar, which was beautifully decorated for the holidays.
While I thought Rubicon was fantastic and CASK Cabernet Sauvignon was also delicious, my favorites were the non-distributed Captain’s Reserve wines. The 2008 Captain’s Reserve Chardonnay ($30) had wonderful flavors of pear, apple and citrus balanced by the perfect amount of vanilla cream.
The 2006 Captain’s Reserve Syrah ($34) was full of dark fruit – blueberry, blackberry, and plum – which was complimented with just the right amount of spice and smoke. Finally, the 2007 Captain’s Reserve Pinot Noir ($38) had concentrated flavors of red fruits like cherry, strawberry, and raspberry balanced by hints of spice and vanilla.
I thought the Captain’s Reserve wines were gorgeous and quite affordable considering the quality. As an added bonus, Rubicon Estate was offering 40% off each bottle for the holidays. I walked away with a bottle of each without hesitation and would have purchased more if I had room in my suitcase.
Rubicon Estate was a very pleasant surprise with amazing wines, a beautiful estate, and a very rich history. It is highly recommended for anyone in the Napa area.
NOTE: In 2011, Francis & Eleanor Coppola acquired the Inglenook trademark and returned the estate to its original name, Inglenook.
INGLENOOK (formerly Rubicon Estate)
1991 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573
Toll Free Phone: (800) RUBICON (782-4266)
Phone: (707) 968-1100
Fax: (707) 963-9084
Tasting room hours: 10AM – 5PM Daily