When Francis Ford Coppola secured the rights to the Inglenook name in 2011, purchasing all 1700 acres of the Inglenook estate with the proceeds of The Godfather films, he took a heavy legacy upon his shoulders.
Ever since the late 1800s, the name of Inglenook was established as an American name meant to directly compete with—and surpass—European wines. Located in Napa Valley, California, the then-440 acre farm was purchased by Gustave Niebaum from its previous owner back in 1880. Niebaum was the one who bought rootstock in Bordeaux, expanded the winery by buying other estates, oversaw the creation of Inglenook’s first vintage, and even handled the construction of the estate’s famous chateau. The winery had survived industrial depressions and World War II. Even when Allied Grape Growers, who bought the property in 1964, streamlined the production process and dragged the winery’s name through the dirt with poor quality output, the name of Inglenook refused to die.
Though Coppola initially fell in love with the beauty of the property, his interest in Inglenook and its heritage grew deeper. The acclaimed director, who is part of the board of directors along with the rest of the family, ended up taking the name to new heights and granting it a heretofore unknown aura of prestige. He restored the chateau and made his vision clear: to make one of the world’s greatest wines.
Philippe Bascaules, whose hands have seen work in the vineyards of Chateau Margaux, was brought in as Inglenook’s main winemaker and General Manager to continue the legacy of elegance that Niebaum originally strove to achieve.
And elegance is no mere figure of speech here, but a virtue for the French-born winemaker. Bascaules’s winemaking philosophy can be summed up in three words: “Balance is key.” Various elements such as flavor and freshness, soil and climate, and decanting methods must come together seamlessly in order to achieve elegance. Otherwise, whatever wine is produced comes off as “disjointed,” as Bascaules would put it. “To me, excellence starts with everything,” he says, acknowledging the importance of every factor and element in the winemaking process.
Working with vineyards so unlike the ones found in Chateau Margaux comes with its challenges. When Bascaules started working at Napa Valley, he had to adjust to new conditions and understand the terroir if he expected to align himself with Coppola’s vision for Inglenook. But it seems Bascaules has made himself comfortable, and is working at top form, if Inglenook’s wines are any evidence.
The 2011 Rubicon for example, turned out to be an unexpectedly good vintage. Though disruptive weather marred the production process and reduced crops, this resulted in less fruits and therefore greater flavor concentration, which the Rubicon promises on its first sip. Or consider the 2013 Blancaneaux, known for its aromatic qualities, its fragrance bearing hints of pear and honey.
For Bascaules, the future of Inglenook is hard to define. Though Inglenook does plan to expand its name and establish itself in Asia, the end goal will always be the preservation of quality. “Inglenook is the starting point, Inglenook will be the end,” he says. And with Bascaules’s expertise and Coppola’s vision, Inglenook seems to be in a good place.