In 1880, Gustave Niebaum founded the Inglenook Winery in Rutherford, California. Slightly less than a century later, Francis Ford Coppola bought the property as a "quaint summer home" for his family-- a place where he could "make a little wine in the cellar like his grandparents once did."
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It's wise to be wary of wines that are celebrity pet projects, but Niebaum-Coppola produces some very drinkable wines under $20, and a few surprisingly good ones, for less than $10 per bottle, that are always available at Trader Joe's. We stopped at the Niebaum-Coppola winery to taste wine, but we left without a single sip.
Way back when, wineries welcomed guests with free tasting and tours. As wine tasting has grown in popularity, more and more wineries have started to offset their tasting costs by charging tasting fees. At most wineries, the fee is about $5 per person, which often includes a take-home signature wine glass. At wineries with higher priced wines, or on holidays, the tasting fees are higher.
At Niebaum-Coppola, a basic tasting of four one ounce pours costs $15 per person. We were surprised it was that high, but we chalked the high price up to the cost of Coppola's highly regarded, $100/bottle Rubicon Cabernet Sauvignon. As we approached the tasting bar, though, we noticed something that stunned us even more: the tasting fee didn't even include Rubicon. The basic tasting includes the "Director's" Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Niebaum-Coppola charges an extra $10 to taste Rubicon, and they throw in a "free" tour to sweeten the pot.
The crowds by the tasting bar were thick anyway, so I walked over to Mammarella's Wine Bar to see if I could just buy a glass of Rubicon. For some reason, Mammarella's attracts large groups of loud, giggling women, and I just couldn't break through the herd to buy a drink. I went back to find my husband, and we agreed that we'd spend a little time checking out the winery and museums, but that there just wasn't much point trying to taste wines at Niebaum-Coppola.
The Tasting Room is housed in the Chateau built by Niebaum over a century ago. It's a massive facilty with two wine bars and more merchandise than the first floor at Bloomingdale's. Some of the merchandise is wine or winery-related, and is similar to the products sold at all the other Napa tasting rooms. There are pastas, sauces, and olive oils from Coppola's "Mammarella" foods, some film-related stuff, as you might expect, and a section with Sofia Coppola's favorite jewelry, purses, clothing, and overpriced candles.
Wines are all available by the bottle, of course, but (and I love this) the Sofia Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine is available in adorable, 187 mL flip top cans complete with shrink-wrapped straw. You can get a very nice hexagonal gift box with four cans for $20.
Tours begin at 10:30, 12:30, and 2:30 every day, and as I mentioned above, they're included in the $25 enhanced tasting fee.
The Centennial Museum is Francis Ford Coppola's china cabinet. It houses his collections of old Iglenook wines, antique zoetropes, musical scores written by his father, costumes and props from Coppola's movies, and a Tucker automobile. It's a pretty cool collection of stuff.
On the way back to our car, we took a detour to Niebaum Coppola's restrooms. I can't speak for the men's room, but the women's was pretty funky. It felt more like the bathroom at a campground than one you'd find in a winery.
I'm guessing Sofia pees elsewhere.
If you're a wine-lover, in Napa Valley to taste wines, and to learn about them from the winemakers, Niebaum-Coppola will disappoint you. It feels more like a wine-themed amusement park than a winery.
If you're a big fan of Francis Coppola, though, you'll enjoy the place-- especially his museum.
If you're a large group of vapid, giggling women in search of a decent buzz, you've found the Mother Ship.
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Winery Name: Niebaum-Coppola
State or Region: California
County or Appellation: Napa Valley
Date Visited: May 2005
Tours Offered: Yes
Tasting Cost, Per Person: 15-25
Guidelines for rating scale: If you're in the area anyway