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Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 95

Today’s words are brought to us by Inglenook Winery.  Specifically, an ad for Inglenook Estate Wines that appeared in the March 1974 issue of The New Yorker.

The headlines for that March 1974 issue?  Sample Resignation Speeches for Richard Nixon and Why Women’s Dresses Don’t Fit and Other Tales from the Garment Center.

There’s also a groovy ad for a Toshiba cassette tape that boasts, “you can record two straight hours on a cassette without flipping the tape.  Imagine recording two hours of The Beatles from the radio without even being in the same room!”  Imagine. 😎

Back to Inglenook . . .

Inglenook?  Isn’t that jug wine?  Yes . . . and most definitely no.
During the mid-late 1970s, Inglenook was trying to claw its way out of the jug-wine hole it had fallen into.  The ad goes on to say that “better tasting wines” should be estate bottled, from Napa Valley, and vintage dated.  And also Inglenook.

To understand how Inglenook fell into a jug-wine hole, you need a bit of history.  And the history of Inglenook is a bit of a saga.  But here are the bare-bones highlights:

1879:  A Finnish Sea Captain named Gustave Niebaum buys Inglenook (a Scottish expression meaning “cozy corner”) from William Watson.

1939:  Josh Daniel, grand-nephew of Gustave Niebaum, becomes the owner of Inglenook. During the 1940s and 50s, Daniel made what are arguably some of the best Cabernets in Napa Valley history.  (In 1990, Wine Spectator scored the 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 100 points, and named it one of the Top Wines of the Century.)

1964:  Inglenook is suffering from a lack of profits, and is badly in need of repairs and new equipment.  Daniel sells Inglenook to Allied Grape Growers/United Vintners.  The sale includes the château, the brand name Inglenook, and 94 acres.  Daniel keeps the Niebaum mansion and about 1,500 acres.  Allied Growers promises to maintain the quality and reputation of Inglenook, but, well, they didn’t.

1969:  Heublein International (a global drinks conglomerate, and the Darth Vader of this story) buys 82% of United Vintners and in the process acquires Inglenook.  The winemaking emphasis shifts from crafting estate Cabernet to making oceans of generic jug wine, under the new Inglebook-Navalle label. (If there were a musical score to this timeline, this is where we’d cue The Imperial March.)

1975:  Francis Coppola buys Daniel’s 1,560 acres of the Inglenook estate (and the Niebaum mansion) with profits from The Godfather.  Following French tradition, he linked (by hyphenation) his name with Niebaum’s, making the property the Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery.

1995:  Coppola purchases the last of the Inglenook land parcels (all those acres that got gobbled up by United Vintners, and were later bought and sold by a range of entities including R.J. Reynolds, Grand Metropolitan, and Canandaigua), which effectively reunites the property and its Château for the first time in thirty years.

2011:  Coppola buys the Inglenook trademark from The Wine Group (who bought it in 2008, along with Almaden and Paul Masson, as part of a $134 million purchase from Constellation Brands) and announces the estate will once again be known by its historical name, Inglenook.

And so began the process of restoring the legacy of Inglenook as a killer Cabernet and not a jug of forgettable plonk.

Today, Inglenook’s flagship wine, Rubicon, a red Bordeaux-style blend named after Caesar’s famous crossing of a river in Northern Italy, sells for upwards of $200/bottle.

A far cry from jug wine.

True Confessions:  I’ve never tasted a bottle of Rubicon.  But if I ever find myself on the receiving end of an Inglenook Rubicon, I won’t refuse a glass.  And I know just how to approach it . . . taste, don’t gulp!


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