Philippe Bascaules, director of winemaking at Napa’s historic Inglenook estate, is heading back home to Bordeaux, where he’ll assume the position of managing director at Château Margaux next year. It’s a prestigious if bittersweet appointment, since he fills the vacancy created last summer by the death of Paul Pontallier.
«I am happy to go back to France to manage Château Margaux and to be closer to my family, without losing the contact with Inglenook,» Bascaules wrote me in an email after Inglenook’s owner, Francis Ford Coppola, announced the change. «I will continue to collaborate with the technical team [at Inglenook] that will be in place when I leave, and assure that the direction we took five years ago will remain in accordance with Francis’ vision.»
Bascaules said that he would continue as director of winemaking at Inglenook in Napa Valley (with the help of a new day-to-day winemaker and general manager), but it will be a tall order overseeing both estates.
Of the two properties, Margaux is the more prestigious and comfortable fit for Bascaules, who is French, from Bordeaux and worked at Margaux for 15 years before being hired by Coppola in 2011 to reorganize and revitalize Inglenook.
He has done a credible job overseeing Inglenook. Parts of the property have been replanted and retooled and the winemaking operation has been revamped as well, including construction of a new winemaking facility. The two standout wines of late have been the Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel, bottled under the Edizione Pennino label. Inglenook’s flagship wine, a Cabernet-based blend called Rubicon, has played to mixed reviews. One reason is that it’s stylistically different from most Napa Cabernets. Coppola believes too many Napa Cabernets are overripe and alcoholic, and Bascaules has adjusted winemaking to bring the Cabernet more in line with those of Bordeaux’s Left Bank—harvesting earlier at lower sugar levels, yielding wines of higher acidity and lower alcohol levels.
It’s far too early to judge whether the new, leaner style of Rubicon will be the success Coppola hopes for. (The richer, fleshier style of Rubicon made by former winemaker Scott McLeod consistently earned high marks.) But Coppola is pleased by the direction, and I suspect that his and Bascaules’ new hires at Inglenook will also come from the Bordeaux mold.