My friend Mike Beltran has been collecting wines for 40 years. His collection is dwindling because he sells or trades most of his older wines. A couple of months ago while searching in the deepest and darkest part of his cellar he finds a bottle of 1959 Inglenook Charbono. Anything Inglenook prior to 1964 is special. For those not familiar, Inglenook was the premiere winery of California up to 1964. Its 1941 Cabernet Sauvignon was listed in Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines of the century with a 100-point rating. John Daniel Jr. was the winemaker and ran the winery during its heyday when suddenly and tragically he sold Inglenook in 1964 to Allied Grape Growers, essentially a jug wine producer. From there is was downhill for the Inglenook label. In 1975 Francis Ford Coppola purchased the old Inglenook winery and vineyards and today it’s called Rubicon Estates. The Inglenook name is still in the hands of a big conglomermate wine company but the majestic mansion, surrounding vineyards, and the wines made are once again magnificent.
Now back to Mike’s 59 Charbono. Mike makes a call to Larry Stone, the general manager of Rubicon. “Larry, I have a bottle of 1959 Charbono and would like to trade it for some Rubicon wine.” With that, we head up to Rubicon with our wives and meet with Larry Stone. It does not take much time for Larry and Mike to reach an agreement. The bottle of 59 Charbono is traded for six 2005 Rubicon Cask Cabernet bottles, plus two from Larry Stone’s own wine label, Sirita. Mike pushes and gets a final trade agreement that suits us just fine. The four of us march over to the tasting room and enjoy a wonderful sit-down tasting of Rubicon wines with a delicious cheese plate. Who would have ever guessed that one little old bottle of 59 Charbono would yield so much enjoyment?
By the way, no more Charbono is made at Rubicon; that famous vineyard out in front of the Chateaux has been torn up and replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon. But the Inglenook Charbono grapes live on. According to Larry Stone, the few places in the Napa Valley where Charbono grapes are grown are from cuttings from the Inglenook Charbono vineyard. To my knowledge Summers Winery and Shypoke Winery are the only Napa Valley wineries that currently make a Charbono varietal, and several other wineries in the Napa Valley will use it as a blending grape.