Friday, August 19, 2005

Creation of Niebaum-Coppola Estate (Inglenook Vineyards)

The following historical review was first published under the purview of
Suite, in its History Category, under Elegant Old Wineries.

The Stories Underlying
The Niebaum-Coppola Estate
( Owned by Movie Mogul Francis Ford Coppola
Their web site: )
Part One- The Real Origins of Inglenook Vineyards
Copyright: By John M. Olney, June 20, 2005

Sources: (1) -- The Cabin Boy Who Became a Multimillionaire, K-G Olin; (2) web site “” (3) INGLENOOK - GUSTAVE NIEBAUM (4) (5),

Inglenook vineyards and winery existed before the arrival of Gustaf Ferdinand Nybom -- later he would Americanize the name to Gustave Niebaum -- when a portion of the property was owned by one William Campbell Watson (See separate story on same). But, it was Gustave who would be one of the early winegrowers to establish the reputation of Napa Valley to produce fine wines equal to the quality of the French. The story of Niebaum’s arrival in Napa Valley is filled with associations with many men who would also claim Napa as their home and/or major vacation spot away from “The City.” The associations would prove fruitful among all of these “Gentleman Winegrowers of San Francisco. “

Born in Helsinki, Finland in 1842, Gustave apparently had a fondness for the seas of the world. At age sixteen, in1858, he became a cabin boy aboard one of the ships of the Russian American Company who had established a flourishing fur trading business throughout all of Alaska. Following his first voyage, he obviously fell madly in love with the high seas as he immediately began his formal schooling to earn his qualifications as a ship’s Master at the age of nineteen. Only two years later he was Captain of his own ship plying the waters of the North Pacific once again for the Russian American Company.

During the next three years, Gustave navigated throughout the Aleutian Island and mainland villages of Alaska, the Bering Sea and Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia negotiating with the village for the fur skins of almost any animal in the region. He had become an expert on the water, land, animal resources and human inhabitants of the entire North Pacific. This expertise was about to place him in high demand with prominent businessman of San Francisco.

The company constructed forts in Alaska and California. Fort Ross, just north of San Francisco, was the southern-most outpost of the Russian America Company and was used as a great farmland to provide provisions for the Alaskan-based employees of the company and their families. (When the Russians shut down operations, John Sutter - of Sutter’s Fort fame - bought all the Fort Ross property) Originally a private business concern, the Russian American Company had been on the decline for a number of years and the Russian government was compelled to take it over. Eager to avoid the continual drains on the Russian economy to support the declining fur trade business, the Russian Czar saw the sale of the territory as a means to improve cash flow and to rid itself of a barren wasteland. Little did the Czar know what resources “Seward’s Follie” held for others to exploit!

Part Two- The Real Origins of Inglenook Vineyards
Copyright by John M. Olney, June 20, 2005

Sources: (1) -- The Cabin Boy Who Became a Multimillionaire, K-G Olin; (2) web site “”; (3) INGLENOOK - GUSTAVE NIEBAUM ; (4) (5) ;

William H. Seward was a lawyer and politician. In 1856, he lost the presidential nomination to John C. Frémont, the primary undeclared force behind the Bear Flag revolters who staged the take-over of California by capturing General Mariano Vallejo in the town of Sonoma. In 1860, Seward ran again but his success was doomed by a man named Abraham Lincoln. Being a good party man, Seward threw his support behind Lincoln and proceeded on a speaking tour on his behalf throughout the western U.S. during 1860. For his loyalty and support, Abraham Lincoln appointed Seward to the cabinet position of Secretary of State in 1861; the same year the Civil War began. Ironically, Seward was a victim of an unsuccessful assassination attempt (repeated stabbings) on the same day that Lincoln was assassinated - April 14, 1864. The perpetrator was a known associate of Booth who had shot Lincoln. Andrew Johnson followed Lincoln as President and reappointed Seward to continue as Secretary of State.

As Secretary of State, Seward fought for the purchase of the Alaskan frontier as a believer in the concepts of “Manifest Destiny,” and the continued western expansion of the U.S. It was Russia who initially approached the United States about selling the territory during President James Buchanan’s tenure (1857-61), but the coming of the Civil War trumped any meaningful negotiations. However, following the conclusion of the war in 1865, Seward picked up the cause for purchasing the massive territory. A great number of Congressional representatives did not agree with him, nor did many in the press for it was the latter who nicknamed the efforts “Seward’s Follie” or “Seward’s Icebox,“ and “Johnson’s Polar Bear Gardens.“ In the end, however, Seward prevailed but by the slim margin of only a single vote in the Senate (held on April 9, 1867). The purchase was effective on March 30, 1867; the day the Treaty was sign with the Russian Government. The actual withdrawal of Russian occupancy of Alaska did not occur until mid-October of the same year. Alaska celebrates the purchase on “Seward‘s Day,” the last Monday of March.

In the same year, all of the assets (stores, ships and miscellaneous properties) of the Russian American Company were divided and purchased between two U.S. companies: Hutchinson, Kohl & Co. and Hansen, Nybom & Co. The latter company included the young Finlander, Gustaf Ferdinand Nybom (later changed to Gustave Niebaum). Niebaum foresaw the potential for full commercialization of the massive territory. He made full use of this rare opportunity of being “at the right spot at the right time.” He had already developed a sizeable collection of sealskins as well as other valuable furs. With the sale of Alaska to the United States completed, Niebaum commenced his journey to San Francisco loaded down with his valuable furs. In 1868, at the age of only twenty-six, he arrived in San Francisco Bay with a fur skin cargo estimated to be worth over half a million dollars.

The two companies in turn merged to become the Alaska Commercial Company (ACC) in 1868. The founders of the Alaska Commercial Company were among the prominent Jewish families of San Francisco. The company’s first president was Louis Sloss, and Lewis Gerstle was its first vice-president. Among the original stockholders were Simon Greenewald, Hayward M. Hutchinson, Albert Boscowitz, William Kohl, August Wasermann Gustave Niebaum, and General John F. Miller. Sea Captain Niebaum's extensive knowledge of the waters, animals and inhabitants of the territory would prove invaluable to the new company and its partner-owners; so much so that they made him the youngest partner in the operation.

Part Three- The Real Origins of Inglenook Vineyards
Copyright By John M. Olney, July 2, 2005 All rights reserved

Sources Books: (1)Historical and Descriptive Sketchbook of Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino, 1873, Menefee, C. A., Reporter Publishing House (1993); (2) Illustrations of Napa County, California: Historical Sketch, Oakland, 1878, Smith & Elliot; (3) History of Napa Co. California, 1881, Slocum, Bowen & Co. Publishers; (4) History of Napa County, Wallace, W. E., 1901, Enquirer Print; (5) Wine Country - A History of Napa Valley - The early years: 1838-1920, Heintz, Wm., 1990, Capra Pres:
Sources Internet: (1) -- The Cabin Boy Who Became a Multimillionaire, K-G Olin; (2) web site “”; (3) INGLENOOK - GUSTAVE NIEBAUM ; (4) (5) ; (6) ; (7) website:

The cast of characters associated with and/or surrounding Gustave Niebaum and his involvement in the Alaska Commercial Company (ACC) in the late 1870-80s reads like a who’s who of business and politics of both the developed USA (east of the Mississippi) and the developing state of California. He had partners in the ACC who were already entrenched in the business and social structure of Napa Valley. He would marry into the “right” San Francisco family and he would become the head of what was obviously one the most important companies operating out of San Francisco. I compare the ACC in its day to the modern multi-millionaire-generator, Microsoft. Many early ACC shareholders, and especially its original founders, were made millionaires off the company’s business success.

In 1869, Serranus Clinton Hastings, California’s first Chief Justice (1850s)of the State Supreme Court and winegrower in Napa Valley traveled with his friend, William H. Seward, to the Alaskan territory. This was Seward’s first visit to the newly acquired property he had fought so hard for among the two legislative bodies of Congress. Another soon-to-be Napan located in Alaska at this time was John A. Fuller. He arrived there in 1866 and became a Councilman for the town of Sitka, which is located on the Pacific Coastline, west of Juneau. His civilian job was agent for the Russian American Company in its closing days. Fuller had arranged for a large amount of yellow cedar to be milled and given to the then-Governor Seward for his library in New York. Fuller would, in 1872, come to Napa and become a prominent citizen of the community holding such prestigious positions as Mayor of Napa (1899). Today, he is honored with a park on the western outskirts of downtown Napa named after him.

Following a two-year stint as Chief Justice, Hastings became California’s Attorney General for a term of two years. In 1853, the Judge retired from government serve to focus his attentions on his various investments in private enterprise which were mostly concentrated in Napa and Lake Counties.. He moved from his San Francisco home to his property in Rutherford, located just south of St. Helena in Napa Valley. He named this property, “ Madrone Villa,” and he owned vineyards and a small winery that he called “Nook Farm.” His property consisted of three parcels: “Home Farm” was 28 acres southwest of Rutherford; closer to Rutherford were two parcels one 33 acres and the other 43 acres, all planted in grape vines mostly of foreign varietal. All of this property was on the western side of what is now known as Highway 29.

In 1878, he provided a gift of $100,000 to the State, to establish what became the now famous ”Hasting College of Law,” located in San Francisco and is part of the University of California system. He was appointed its first dean.

At the intersection of Highway 29 and Rutherford Cross Road, on the western side, was located the vineyards and winery of William Campbell Watson who had originally designated the name of his property as “Inglenook,” which is Scottish and translates into something like “fireside corner.” Watson was born 1843, and moved to California in the early 1860s. In 1864, he married Elizabeth Anne Davis, a native of San Francisco California. Her Grandfather was George Yount, the first frontiersman to settle in Napa Valley and the first to receive a Mexican Land Grant (Rancho Caymus) back in 1838. Her elder sister was the first Anglo-Saxon child born in San Francisco in April of 1845. The town of Yountville - originally called Sebastopol - was named after George Yount.

Watson was a director at Bank of Napa. He was one of the original officers of the Bank which was organized in 1871. His position was Secretary and Cashier. He remained Cahier for 10 years. He purchased his land in the mid-1800s. It was part of the original Mexican Land Grant given to George Yount. Watson created a magnificent estate on the property which stretched west from what is now called Highway 29 up the rolling hills of the Mayacamas Mountain range. In 1879, Watson sold his property to Gustave Niebaum. I still have not found the reason why Watson decided to sell off the great estate but my research continues.

Two years after he established the Hastings Law School. in 1880, Judge Hastings sold his Nook Farm To Niebaum As can been seen from the previous summaries of Judge Hasting business involvements, it appears that Judge Hasting and Sea Captain Niebaum had many common associates. Why Hastings sold his Rutherford holdings when he did has not yet been revealed to me, but I continue researching for an answer.

Completing land buying spree of Niebaum, was his purchase of “Mrs. D. S. Ruhlwing's farm.” Located adjacent to the Inglenook property. To date I have found little discussion about this property but my research continues for more information.

The winegrowing business had been good to all, especially in the north valley area around St. Helena. All of the directors of the newly formed Bank of St. Helena in 1882 came from the winegrowing industry. They included Charles Krug (of the great Krug Estate now owned by Peter Mondavi Family), Seneca Ewer (of Ewer & Atkinson - now Beaulieu owned by Diageo of Great Britain), Judge Serranus Clinton Hastings (of Nook Farms in Rutherford, which was also purchased by Niebaum and absorbed into the now much larger Inglenook Vineyard Company). William Whittingham Lyman (now El Molino winery), William Scheffler (of Edge Hill winery/distillery - now owned by Leslie Rudd), Gustave Niebaum ( Inglenook Vineyard Company- now owned by Francis Ford Coppola), Henry W. Crabb (of To-Kalon vineyards - purchased by Robert Mondavi Winery who is now owned by Constellation), and other major winery and vineyard owners of the times. (Incidentally, today, the Bank of St. Helena building is one of the hot nightlife clubs in Napa County. It is called the “1351 Lounge” and named after the street address. Even the original bank vault door remains in the back of the club.)

The second of Hastings’ four daughters, Flora A. Hastings, married W. S. Keyes, the son of General Erasmas D. Keyes who created what would become “Edge Hill Winery & Distillery,” located on White Sulphur Creek Road, St. Helena. (now owned by Leslie Rudd). in 1888, W. S. and , Flora Keyes built “La Liparita Vineyard” winery (now owned by Bob and Fern Burrows), located up on Howell Mountain, just south of the city of Angwin. Judge Hastings died in 1893


Anonymous Real estate key boxes said...

"Yes, Coppola is Francis Ford Coppola of movie fame. You can't escape that here at the winery -- it includes a museum of movie props, including of course those from the Godfather movies.

The tasting room (more like an estate) has a touch of theme park about it. Wine World, perhaps. They charge $6-10 to taste, depending on what wines you are sampling, but the pours are generous, considering the purpose is supposed to be to decide what you'd like to buy, and you and a companion can always share one glass. And you get to keep the glass. My favorite was the Black Diamond Claret, which had a lot of fruit without being heavily oaked. It's about $15 at the winery (cheaper at Trader Joe's and Costco).

There is a huge gift shop with all kinds of wine-related paraphernalia and books. The grounds are stunning in a very Hollywood way -- I believe his daughter, actress Sofia Coppola, got married on the grounds. There is a picnic area with a good view of the valley."


4:50 PM  

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