In early February, I visited two iconic Napa wineries: Inglenook, just south of St. Helena, and Chateau Montelena, further up the valley in Calistoga. Both are on top form and regularly feature in Christie’s sales—and both produce wines with ties to Hollywood, including a Chardonnay featured in the film Bottle Shock.
Inglenook has undergone a renaissance since its purchase by movie director Francis Ford Coppola in 1975. The winery was founded in 1879 when Gustave Niebaum, a sea captain from Finland, arrived in Rutherford to build a winery that would mirror those he was familiar with in Europe. It survived prohibition and in 1933 a new era began when it came under the stewardship of winemaker Carl Bundschu and the management of John Daniel Jr.
The vintages during the years until John Daniel Jr. died in 1970 are some of Napa’s most legendary wines, seen in the same terms as the Bordeaux First Growths. Inglenook Cabernet from the 1941 vintage is considered the best ever wine produced in Napa, and two bottles sold at Christie’s for $5,500 each back in 2011.
Today the winery continues to thrive under the ownership of Coppola and the property makes exceptional wines with Philippe Bascaules, formerly of Château Margaux at the helm. Look out for the RC Reserve Syrah—I bought a bottle of the 2010 and it was delicious.
Heading onward, I visited the historic Chateau Montelena. Constructed in 1888, it was originally known as the A.L. Tubbs winery and its impressive façade, inspired by a Gothic English castle, looms large.
The winery ceased production during prohibition and following the death of Tubbs in 1947 it stopped production again for nearly two decades. The modern era began in the early 1970s and the wine that put the winery on the map was its 1973 Chardonnay, featured in the 2008 film Bottle Shock.
More Wines to Look Out for on Screen
As well as Bottle Shock—a dramedy based on the real-life 1976 competition Judgment of Paris, in which American and French wines were pitted against one another in a blind tasting and Chateau Montelena triumphed—Sideways is a must-see for any wine enthusiast.
Based on a novel by the same name, the movie follows two men trying to find themselves as they explore Santa Barbara wine country. Credited with increasing sales of Pinot Noir in the United States, the film features a cellar’s worth of incredible vintages, but two notable mentions include Californian cult classic Sea Smoke Cellars Botella Pinot Noir and a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc.
In fact, Château Cheval Blanc makes an appearance in a number of movies—most unexpectedly in Disney’s Ratatouille where a villainous restaurant critic orders a 1947 bottle for “some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective.”
Less surprisingly, if only because James Bond is known to enjoy a glass or two of the best, Château Cheval Blanc can also be seen being sipped by Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. Bond movies in general are good for a bit of wine spotting, with Charles Krug Napa Chenin Blanc appearing in GoldenEye and Château Angélus popping up in Casino Royale.
In fact, if you are going to base your wine selection on the silver screen, go with Bond— he has excellent taste. Château Cheval Blanc and Château Angélus are two of only a handful of wines to receive the highest rank of Premier Grand Cru Classé (A) status in the Classification of Saint-Émilion wine.
Banner image: Inglenook is noted for its RC Reserve Syrah—Rutherford’s temperate climate and alluvial soils provide excellent conditions for producing a rich, opulent wine.