'Don Coppola, I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your winery to enjoy the rebranding of your estate. And may your first wine be a masculine wine." This is what I would have said upon meeting film-director-turned-wine-maven Francis Ford Coppola if we had met during my visit to his Rutherford compound (recently rechristened Rubicon Estate and formerly known as the Niebaum-Coppola). Further camouflaging my sycophancy as wit, I planned to follow up with "I love the smell of Napa in the morning," in the hope that the Godfather would guffaw approvingly, throw a bearish arm over my shoulder and drag me off for a night of hard drinking and talking about what a brilliant filmmaker he is (and how brilliant I am to agree).
I did, however, take the opportunity to survey some recent upgrades made to the joint, namely the reduction of the fanny-packed hordes that show up to ogle the movie memorabilia displayed on the property, now in the process of being moved. In the coming weeks, suckers for Tucker et al, will have to journey to the recently acquired Chateau Souverain (a Coppola-branded venture in the Alexander Valley) to commune with, say, the desk from The Godfather.
Like Coppola's Apocalypse Now redux, Rubicon Estate isn't a complete reworking of the original premise, but more of a restorative effort intended to recapture its lingering legacy. In a previous incarnation, the estate released a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon which is still lauded as one of the 10 greatest wines in the world.
With premium wines, however, come premium prices. Recent vintages of the eponymous Rubicon label go for as much as $140 a bottle. More cost-conscious selections include the vivid 2003 Cask Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), a robust berry- and cocoa-driven sipper which, at first blush, suggests cherry-flavor Sucret throat lozenges and triggered a sense memory of being home from third grade, bundled up, watching Leave It to Beaver reruns while my mom called Dr. Fugi. Also nostalgic, the 2004 Edizione Pennino Zinfandel ($40) is a pleasantly dusty wine that finishes like that last satisfying splash of Royal Crown Cola after the ice has melted in your cup and the waitress is off counting her tips.
For kicks, when you're at the counter, ask for Bart Hayes—he's the tasting room guru who happens to be a veteran of the San Francisco Opera. With some gentle goading, he'll gladly sing selections from La Traviata.
Rubicon Estate, 1991 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. $25 for five tastes. 707.968.1100.