Gustave Niebaum is born on August 30 in Helsingfors (present day Helsinki), Finland, into a Swedish-speaking family.
Niebaum receives his master papers from the Nautical Institute in Helsingfors, and is given his first command in 1864 to captain a ship headed through the Bering Strait to Russian America, later purchased by the United States as the Department of Alaska in 1868. He explores the land and water routes of this frontier region and begins a career in commerce.
As ship's captain, Gustave Niebaum sails into San Francisco Bay, after traveling throughout Alaska and its surrounding islands, with a cargo of fur hides and sealskins worth $600,000, a fortune at the time.
He settles in San Francisco and, along with several partners, founds the Alaska Commercial Company, which establishes trading posts and shipping lines in Alaskan territory. Within a decade of leaving Finland, Niebaum is a multi-millionaire with a refined taste for life and a dream of building an American winery to rival the great chateaus of Europe.
William C. Watson, grandson-in-law to George C. Yount—Napa Valley's first white settler in 1836—and manager of the Bank of Napa, buys 78 acres of land at the base of Mount St. John, just west of Rutherford. He christens his property Inglenook, a Scottish phrase for "cozy corner" or "hearth."
Niebaum buys the Inglenook property as well as the adjoining Rohlwing Farm for $48,000. After extensive travel and study, Niebaum chooses Inglenook's site, intuiting its extraordinary potential for growing grapes. He continues to acquire smaller parcels of neighboring land over the next several years so that by 1887 he owns 1,100 contiguous acres, spending a total sum of about $60,000.
Fluent in several languages, Niebaum assiduously collects books on every aspect of winemaking, assembling a private library considered to be one of the most valuable on viticulture and oenology. John Daniel Jr.—Niebaum's grandnephew, who assumes management of Inglenook in 1939—eventually donates this library to the University of California at Davis.
Construction of the Chateau winery begins under the supervision of Inglenook's General Manager Hamden McIntyre and the San Francisco-based architect William Mooser.
Niebaum travels throughout Europe in search of vine cuttings, the majority of which come from France and Germany where he has standing orders with the best nurseries. He returns home with some of the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines to be planted in Napa Valley as well as the very first Merlot. Niebaum implements the continental approach to denser vine spacing, allowing no more than four feet of space between vines.
Inglenook, purchased by Captain Gustave Niebaum in 1879 as his dream site for a winery to rival the very best European chateaus, celebrates its first vintage, producing 80,000 gallons of wine made in a temporary cellar located behind Niebaum's private residence
A full line of Inglenook wines is presented to members of the Wine and Traders' Society of New York, the nation's leading spirit importers. When tasting is over, the wines are judged to be the best California wines marketed to date.
Inglenook's Chateau winery is completed. Conceived to be a state-of-the-art facility, the Chateau's design is based on gravity-flow, one of the first of its type in Napa Valley, and includes an early form of rebar—using cable from cable-cars in San Francisco—to stave off earthquake tremors and to help the building shift safely during the crush process.
True to his fastidious nature in each step of the winemaking process, Niebaum devises California's first grape-sorting table and also installs the state's first bottling line to ensure the wines' provenance from growth to bottle, the latter always bearing the California Pure Wine Stamp and secured with an intricate wire maze to guarantee the wine's integrity.
Inglenook receives the Silver Medal for Purity and Excellence at the Paris Exposition Universelle, a world's fair celebrating the centennial of the French Revolution and the grand opening of the Eiffel Tower.
At the Australian Exposition, Inglenook's white wines compete with those of France and Germany, and are given the First Award of Merit.
The Great San Francisco Earthquake, one of the most significant earthquakes in history, destroys much of the city, including the building that housed Niebaum's Alaska Commercial Company. Among the few structures to survive the earthquake is the Sentinel Building, home to Francis Coppola's American Zoetrope since 1972, and named as a San Francisco Designated Landmark in 1970.
John Daniel Jr. is born, the grandnephew of Susan Niebaum (née Shingleberger), Captain Niebaum's wife of 35 years.
After their mother dies in 1914, John Daniel Jr. and his sister Suzanne move to Inglenook to live with their grandaunt Susan. Daniel will oversee operations at Inglenook from 1939 to 1964, maintaining his granduncle's emphasis on diligence in service to authenticity.
Captain Niebaum dies on August 5, at the age of 66, as a result of heart disease.
Winemaking stops at Inglenook for about two years, but Mrs. Niebaum reopens the winery in 1911 under contract with B. Arnhold & Co. of San Francisco who appoints Lafayette Stice as Winemaker and Herman Lange as Manager of Vineyards and Winery. Both men uphold Captain Niebaum's standards of excellence.
Inglenook wines triumph at San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal, winning an impressive total of 19 gold medals.
The Prohibition era begins with ratification of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, commonly called the "Volstead Act." Mrs. Niebaum makes certain that Inglenook's vineyards are maintained, and sells grapes to home markets and to neighboring Beaulieu Vineyards that makes sacramental wines for the Catholic Church.
On December 6, Inglenook hosts an all-day celebration marking the ratification of the 21st constitutional amendment, which brings Prohibition to a close.
With Prohibition officially over, Mrs. Niebaum hires expert winemaker Carl Bundschu as Inglenook's General Manager. Bundschu, from an esteemed Sonoma wine family, is very active in California's wine industry and shares Captain Niebaum's commitment to quality. He mentors John Daniel Jr.—Niebaum's grandnephew who came to live at Inglenook with his sister Suzanne in 1914—the two men working together in the production, marketing, and sale of Inglenook wines.
Inglenook's future is placed solely in Daniel's hands when Bundschu takes a position as Sales Manager at Frank Schoonmaker Company, a prominent wine importer and distributor of California's best estate wines. Daniel hires George Deuer to be Inglenook's Winemaker.
Inglenook wines win the most number of awards of any California winery at San Francisco's Golden Gate International Exposition that marks the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Inglenook's 1941 Cabernet Sauvignon earns the reputation of being "among the best red wines ever made." In 1990 this vintage achieves a perfect score of 100 as judged by the Wine Spectator, and a single bottle sells at auction in 2004 for just over $27,000.
World War II interrupts wine importing from France, Germany, and Italy until 1947.
Daniel begins using the slogan "Pride, not Profit" to promote the purity of Inglenook wines, a motto that is truer than most realize—like Niebaum before him, Daniel is subsidizing Inglenook's operations with his personal funds.
Inglenook's Diamond Jubilee of 75 years is celebrated with a luncheon of 50 prominent wine merchants on the lawn outside of the Captain's home.
Despite world acclaim for Inglenook wines, the financial reality of maintaining the rigorous standards in both vineyard and winery protocols, instituted by Niebaum and followed by Daniel, becomes an insurmountable challenge. Daniel sells Inglenook—its brand name, Chateau winery, and close to 100 acres of vineyards—to United Vintners, but keeps the Captain's home and about 1,500 acres of surrounding property for himself and family. A few years after Daniel dies in 1970, his wife, Betty, decides to sell what remains of the original Inglenook estate.
Heublein, Inc. purchases United Vintners for $100 million, a sale that swallows Inglenook's identity in the process. The Estate's fate after the Daniel years becomes a cautionary tale of the perils of corporate ownership where volume and revenue trump quality–-a swift and sharp 180-degree turn from the values that guided Inglenook's remarkable development for 90 years.
Searching for a modest "vacation cottage" in Napa Valley, Francis and Eleanor Coppola purchase a portion of what had been the Inglenook estate—the mansion and acreage—put on the market by Betty Daniel. The Coppolas soon discover the inherent treasure of what they now own and vow, no matter how long it takes, to reunite all of the land and to restore Inglenook's esteemed reputation. They establish their own winery, which they call the Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery.
The famous "Judgment of Paris" is held on May 24 with the shocking results that two wines from Napa Valley—a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1973 Chardonnay—bested their French counterparts in a blind tasting comparison, judged by France's foremost wine experts. The Paris Tasting is a turning point in having Napa Valley seen as a serious winemaking region, and prompts the wine industry, as a whole, to begin sharing and comparing in ways not previously explored.
The Niebaum-Coppola Estate produces its first vintage of Rubicon, a red Bordeaux-style blend, named after Julius Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C., a small step that nevertheless began Rome's civil war—"the point of no return." The name conjures an apt metaphor for the Coppolas' aim to create wines of the quality achieved by Inglenook at the height of its reputation.
Inglenook's Centennial is held in the Garden Court of the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco, an occasion marking 100 years of excellence in winemaking.
André Tchelistcheff, affectionately called "The Maestro," is hired as Niebaum-Coppola's wine consultant. Tchelistcheff is America's most influential post-Prohibition winemaker, respected for his contributions in defining the style of California wines. In fact, he contributed to making the two winning vintages from Napa Valley at the 1976 "Judgment of Paris." He modestly said that it was John Daniel Jr., rather than himself, who was Napa Valley's greatest winemaker.
Analysis and research conducted by the University of California at Davis—academic leader in viticulture and oenology—proves that the Estate's Cabernet Sauvignon vines contain the same genetic material as the vines first brought from France by Niebaum in the early 1880s.
Rutherford, California, is formally designated as an appellation, one of the 16 nested American Viticultural Areas in Napa Valley. As a region, Napa Valley was named California's first AVA in 1981. Although organic farming practices have been in place at the Estate since the late 1970s, Niebaum-Coppola receives official certification and accreditation by California Certified Organic Farmers, or CCOF, in 1994.
The Coppolas successfully reunite the Estate after a separation of nearly 30 years by purchasing the remaining property of what had originally constituted Inglenook including its historic Chateau. Restoration of the Chateau begins along with plans for a courtyard fountain. Niebaum-Coppola's Cask Cabernet—with a first vintage in 1995 that is released in 1998—pays tribute to the great Cask Cabernets of John Daniel Jr., made by blending several different lots of this varietal.
The Grand Opening of the Chateau is marked with a celebratory gala that features an outdoor screening of Abel Gance's silent film Napoleon (1927), accompanied by a live orchestra performing the score composed by Carmine Coppola, Francis Coppola's father.
Winemaking returns to the Chateau after nearly 40 years of inactivity when the 2002 Rubicon becomes the first vintage to be made in the now refurbished winemaking facilities.
The Coppolas add to their land holdings by purchasing 60 acres of the neighboring J.J. Cohn Vineyard—one of the most sought-after properties in Napa Valley—bringing the Estate to a total of 1,700 acres.
Construction begins on the Infinity Caves—cellars with a total space of approximately 16,000 square feet—that are carved into the hillside directly behind the Chateau, and are completed in just a year's time.
With patient resolve and relentless negotiations over nearly four decades, the Coppolas fulfill the vow they made in 1975 by acquiring Inglenook's name and trademark. Inglenook—land, name, and spirit—is whole once again.
Philippe Bascaules of Chateau Mârgaux becomes Inglenook's General Manager. After spending five years at Inglenook, Bascaules is invited to return to Chateau Mârgaux in 2016, and subsequently designs a schedule that allows him to continue to oversee operations at Inglenook as its Director of Winemaking. Bascaules says that his goal is to produce the best possible wines as expressions that faithfully convey the Estate's terroir through "rigor, intellectual honesty, and instinctive passion."
Bascaules and the Coppolas initiate the 50-Year Replanting Cycle, which entails replanting an average of only two percent of Inglenook's 235 acres of vineyard blocks on an annual basis in order to have more latitude in experimenting with different viticultural methods. After every 50-year cycle, all of the blocks will have been replanted with vines maintaining a median age of 25 years. In effect, the plan is "perpetual" since it allows for continual vine renewal on the property.
The Coppolas––including their children, Roman and Sofia, and eldest grandchild, Gia––are the honorary chairs of the 37th Auction Napa Valley, the annual charity event of Napa Valley Vintners, which administers grants to local non-profit organizations focused on community health and children's education. Proceeds from the three-day event total $15.7 million.
Ground is broken to expand the Infinity Caves–-used primarily to store aging wines–-into a state of the art winemaking facility. The new subterranean winery occupies close to 23,000 square feet, a massive space designed to accommodate 120 fermenting tanks–-each one designated for a respective vineyard block–-thus allowing the winemaking team to maintain the integrity of the individual block's character. Such thoughtful attention to Inglenook's continued evolution, once again, honors the standards of its founder Gustave Niebaum.
Francis Coppola receives a Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Lifetime Achievement Award, commenting that he is "humbled by this recognition [because] I'd always entertained the idea of having enough land to grow some grapes and make a little bit of homemade wine to share with friends....[Now] with 40 years in winemaking, the quality and authenticity of our wines are particularly important because our name is on the label. You can trust that we stand by it."