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Francis Ford Coppola to return Inglenook to ‘lower alcohol’

Francis Ford Coppola is actively working to produce more elegant, lower-alcohol wines at his re-named Inglenook winery, he told Decanter.com yesterday.

The film director and owner of the legendary Inglenook estate in Napa has employed Chateau Margaux winemaker Philippe Bascaules as his managing director to work alongside Bordeaux-based consultant Stephane Derenoncourt, who has been with Coppola since 2008.

Speaking at the Ledbury restaurant in London’s Notting Hill, Coppola said, ‘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: Stephane hates oak.’

Coppola is convinced that the famed estate can produce wine of the style of 50 years ago. ‘You have to trust the land,’ he said. ‘We are making wine from the same estate – we have the vineyards, and all we need now is the skill.’

To that end he employed a Bordeaux recruitment agency to search out a winemaker. Having seen six candidates – working at the most senior level at some of the most renowned properties around in Europe, including the winemakers of a number of Bordeaux crus classés – he offered Bascaules the job. He will start in September.

Coppola has also invited Napa veteran Craig Williams, head winemaker at Phelps for 25 years, to sit on the winery board, in order that Derenoncourt and Bascaules should have a point of reference in the Valley. It will ‘give them some feeling of Napa’, said Coppola.

Along with the name-change back to Inglenook, Coppola said he will ‘phase out’ the heavy, embossed Rubicon bottles in favour of classic Bordeaux bottles.

He is also interested in the role irrigation plays in increasing potential alcohol content of the grapes – the new winemaking team will investigate reducing irrigation levels on the 100ha estate.

As for changing the name of the wines to Inglenook, Coppola is aware that the Inglenook name has been ‘trashed’ over many years of different ownership during which a brand once synonymous with the highest level of Napa wine was more recently attached to the cheapest jug wines.

He will rehabilitate the name, he says, by letting the quality of the wine speak for itself. ‘What can you do? I now have the right wine and the right people behind it. If that doesn’t rehabilitate Inglenook, then no amount of public relations is going to do that for you.’

Coppola said he had a high regard for multinational The Wine Group, which previously owned the Inglenook name.

During the protracted negotiations which ended in his paying ‘more for the trademark than I did for the entire estate’ he said they were cooperative throughout. ‘They wanted me to have that name.’

The relaunch of the Inglenook name will allow Coppola to further separate the high-end, estate-made wines from the mass-market, two-million-cases Francis Ford Coppola brands made from purchased grapes at the former Chateau Souverain winery in Sonoma.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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