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The name game - or something more?

Posted by Stephen Meuse  June 2, 2011 08:51 AM

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Thumbnail image for inglenook.JPGBack in April, Decanter.com reported that director turned wine impresario Francis Ford Coppola had purchased the Inglenook name from corporate owner the Wine Group, with the intention of returning the trademark to the property where it was born. The move represents something like the final step in a decades old project to reunite the original Niebaum home, winery, and heritage vineyards (circa 1875) to something of their original integrity. 

Inglenook earned renown as the producer of top drawer California cabernet which it began to produce reliably in the nineteen forties. In 1964 Inglenook was sold to the first in a string of corporate entities that subsequently disaggregated the estate's assets and began the systematic, progressive debasement of the brand.  Coppola eventually bought the estate from wine giant Canandaigua - but by then the name itself was owned by someone else. Under Coppola's ownership the property was first known as Niebaum-Coppola and more recently as Rubicon Estate, after its flagship wine. 

Terms of the trademark purchase were not made public, but Coppola has said it cost more than he paid for the entire estate in 1994. 

Today, the same publication is reporting that Coppola's vision for the estate's wines includes more than just a back-to-the-future name change, but a dramatic turn in the style of the wines the estate will produce. "I want to return to elegance. I will go for the [old] Inglenook style – lower alcohol, more freshness, balance, more restrained tannins – and less oak . . ." he is quoted as saying. To achieve it, Coppola has hired a French managing director to work alongside Bordeaux-based consulting enologist Stephane Derenoncourt who was brought on in 2008. Derenoncourt's resume is impressive with something like sixty or seventy clients and projects as far afield as Turkey, Lebanon, China - and even his own California project separate from Inglenook.

Rescuing the Inglenook name from the obloquy associated with the jug wine aisle is surely something to feel good about, but whether the change flags a new direction for the winery and its output or just another gilt-edged marketing caper remains to be seen. Neither I nor anyone I know has a high opinion of Rubicon or the theme-park aura that has overtaken the fine old property under Coppola's stewardship.  

File under: Wait and see.   

Ellen Bhang

About By the Glass

Ellen Bhang writes about food and wine and reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe. Wine is the focus of her degree in the Gastronomy master's program at Boston University. She can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com.

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