POSTED ON January 13, 2009 | IN Tasting Rooms | BY Joe Becerra

It was 2003 when we last visited the famous and historic Inglenook Chateau built by Gustave Niebaum in 1887. When we visited it was called Niebaum Coppola in honor of Gustave Niebaum and Francis Ford Coppola, the current owner who rescued the historic winery from the giant Heublein Corporation in 1975. The Chateau was still beautiful but the place reminded us of more of a carnival or circus event. The parking lot was full and the tasting rooms were lined with people. There was merchandise galore for sale and on the second floor visitors packed the displays anxious to see Hollywood memorabilia from various Coppola films. It was hard to figure out what this beautiful place was all about.

We visited last week and we were greatly impressed with the changes that Francis Ford Coppola has made at the Chateau. A couple of years back Mr. Coppola had enough of the carnival atmosphere and decided to make several changes. He wanted the winery to be more representative of the days was when it was owned by Gustave Niebaum and later, John Daniel, Jr. These were the glory days of Inglenook wine, wine that Gustave pledged to make so well that it would last 100 years. John Daniel, Jr. continued with that pledge until financial problems forced him to sell the estate and label to Allied Grape Growers in 1964.

One of the biggest changes Mr. Coppola made was charging guests $25 a person for a passport package to enter the winery. The passport includes a tasting of five wines, a 30 minute guided tour, and access to a wine bar and other areas of the Chateau. The Passport is stamped and it is good for two days. The idea behind the passport was to bring in a more selective type of visitor to the Chateau and keep the tasting more of a wine experience. This appears to have been largely accomplished.

Rubicon Tour Leader

Rubicon Tour Leader

Secondly, Mr. Coppola purchased Chateau Souverain, another beautiful winery located on Highway 101 near Healdsburg. Chateau Souverain is now Rosso & Bianco and he uses this facility to make his Diamond Series wine. These are large production wines that are found widely distributed in supermarkets and the like. He has also been moving his Hollywood displays to Rosso & Bianco. Back at the Inglenook Chateau, Mr. Coppola focused all his attention on making his premium wine label, most of which comes from the estate. He also changed the name to Rubicon Estate.

On our visit, we did the tasting and tour and browsed around the very unique merchandise shop. At a leisurely pace, we tasted the five wines that included the Estate Cask Cabernet ($80) and the Rubicon ($125). We found the wines to be wonderfully delicious. The 30-minute tour was more like 45 minutes and it was extremely informative. The tour takes visitors through the winemaking facilities, a look at the new caves, and a walk outside and up on the hill where you look back and see the home of the Coppolas.

We were very skeptical when we first heard about the $25 and the passport idea. Now, after our visit, our faith has been restored. This truly beautiful Chateau and its history have not been compromised. The tradition of making fine wines at the Chateau now continues and we highly recommend a visit; you will not be disappointed.