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Coppola Makes Wine Expert an Offer He Can’t Refuse

Francis Ford Coppola, the oenophile film director, has lured a wine expert from Château Margaux, one of Bordeaux’s first growths, to reinvigorate his California winery.

Wine glass
Wine glass

Mr Coppola described the recruitment of Philippe Bascaules as a “dream come true”.

An agricultural engineer who has worked at the prestigious Bordeaux estate since 1990, Mr Bascaules will now take charge of a 2011 California harvest.

Mr Coppola’s estate, in Rutherford on the west side of the Napa Valley, produced some of the most admired American wines in the 1940s and 1950s.

He began by buying the old homestead and reuniting the original vineyards bit by bit.

He later acquired the historic 19th-century winery buildings while the original name, Inglenook, was passed from one multinational to another, with scant regard for its reputation.

Today $6 will buy you a magnum of Inglenook White Zinfandel.

Mr Coppola, who directed among other films The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now, said his Napa Valley property, currently known as Rubicon Estate, only needs some top winemaking expertise, a new state-of-the-art winemaking facility (to be designed by Mr Bascaules) and a few tweaks to realise its potential as one of the world’s greatest wine estates.

“The name might have been trashed and ruined, but people are still paying tens of thousands of dollars for bottles from the previous era. It all needs to be reunited,” he said.

To that end, Mr Coppola has just bought the Inglenook trademark from the Wine Group, a California mass market producer.

Mr Coppola does not seem too worried about Mr Bascaules’ lack of fluency in English.

“I admire very much the notion of a person of few words. Philippe is not a talky kind of person but what he does say is thoughtful,” he said.

Corinne Mentzelopoulos, owner of Château Margaux, said: “I know that Philippe has learnt a lot here. We are sad to let him go, and wish him good luck.”

He may need it. The last high-profile incomer to the eastern foot of the Mayacamas Mountains from Bordeaux was Christian Mouiex, then running Château Pétrus.

He began to establish his own Napa Valley winery Dominus as long ago as 1983 but admits that it took him many years truly to understand the terroir.