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The Mysterious Inglenook Cabinet Port


In my post Two Amazing Bottles: Charvin and Inglenook I guessed that the bottle of Inglenook, Cabinet Port which Clark and I drunk dated from 1974-1978.  This was a logical guess but not completely satisfying so over the last few weeks I continued my investigation.  I began an email exchange with Tom Mendes a Membership Associate at Inglenook Vineyards.  Tom began to ask around the winery.  Gustave Niebaum produced many wines in the early 20th century.  He conducted many experiments and also produced wines which he liked.  Though Tom knew Port was produced in the 1910s and 1920s there are no surviving records.  There are still many old bottles in the cellars but again, no records.  In this post I chart my investigation into bottles of 1910 Inglenook Port and the origins of Californian Cabinet wine.

Bottles of 1910 Inglenook, Private Stock, Port

Inglenook3

Timing was fortuitous.  In a recent thread on Wineberskers Trent Schaffler posted pictures of an 1910 Inglenook, Private Stock, Port.  I contacted Trent who graciously provided me detailed images and the history of these bottles.  Back in 1997 or 1998 he found a single bottle listed on a Yahoo Auction.  Trent was the only bidder and won the lot for $75.  He contacted the seller and found out he had original 12-bottle crates of 1910 Port and 1910 Sherry.   The seller’s father had purchased the wine upon release then stored them in a passive cellar/garage in San Francisco.  Trent was new into wine at the time so he asked to purchase six bottles of the port and a wooden crate.

inglenook1

A friend inspected the bottles and picked six which were in the best condition for some of the bottles had leaked to the point of being almost empty.  Of these six bottles, four bottles were of one size/shape and two were another size/shape.

Inglenook2

Back in 2004 Trent took a bottle to an offline tasting.  This was the third bottle he had opened and the best thus far.  Here are the notes:

1910 Inglenook Port Private Stock
What a special treat, thanks to redwingstoneware for bringing this treasure to share with everyone.
Very light red rock dirt in color. Nose of a beautiful tawny with golden raisin. I’ve not ever found a port in the past that I would reach back for seconds, but this one breaks that trend. May not be the highest scoring wine from the night, but after adding on the history and experience, this is definitely my WOTN. Pyang

1910 Inglenook Port Private Stock Astounding. Golden tawney in color, what amazed me the most was not the quanitity of the fruit, but the purity of it. This was a very tastey, restrained wine. It is still nicely cherried on the attack with some sassofrass and is free of offputting flavors, it did show some heat mid-palate as the body of the fruit has faded, it finishes very clean. If only todays Ca port makers could figure this out. A unique opportunity to taste a very rare piece of American winemaking history. Thanks for the previledge. Stealthman_1

1910 California Port Inglenook Vineyards (private stock) – huh? Holy crap! I am sampling some history. A terrific port. The frenchman said “with this wine, you need to treat it with respect . . . like your grandparents.” Never had a wine like this. Score = 95. Blue Oval

Trent has gone on to enjoy two more bottles.  Most recently he finds:

I have been able to enjoy this wine 5 different times, 4 of the times, the wine was very much the same.  The other, the bottle began to leak and was certainly of lesser quality than the other 4.  The best I can compare this to is a really fine Tawny or Colheita.  The wine really has no red pigmentation anymore.  The fruit is still alive and it provides layers of caramel and nuts with a very surprising long finish.

Trent’s bottles are shaped like a brown glass port bottle.  They were sealed with red foil capsule, contain a neck label stating “Vintage 1910”, and a label designating “Private Stock, California, Port, Inglenook Vineyard.”  In looking at Trent’s bottles the top of the label bears, “Grand Prize, Medal of Honor and Twenty Gold Medals, Awards Inglenook Wines, Brandy and Champagne. P. P. I. E. S. F. 1915”.  Tom had noted there is mention of an Inglenook Private Stock Port having won a medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in Steven Kolpan’s A Sense of Place.

In 1908 Gustave Niebaum passed away and his wife closed the winery for three years.  From 1911 to 1919 wines were made under contract with B. Arnhold & Co.  The vineyards and cellar were managed by Herman Lange and the winemaking by Lafayette Stice.  They produced wine in 1911 but continued to cellar the 1908-1910 vintages.  The vintages of 1905 and prior sold so well that they decided to set aside the finest wines, as reserve wines meant for release six years after the vintage.  By 1915 Inglenook was winning many medals.  At the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition Inglenook won 17 medals including a gold medal for their Private Stock Port.

Inglenook6

Based on Trent’s images and description I doubt that the bottle of Cabinet Port was a single vintage port from the 1910s or 1920s.  I could not find any references to Special Reserve Limited Bottling but I did look into Private Stock.  The term was used by Inglenook as early as 1889.

A great square table, partially covered with the thinnest crystal drinking-cups, tempts the visitor to sample some of the old “private stock;” and there are dainty little hand-baskets containing a single bottle of a rare vintage, which have a decided tendency to make the sample taste like “more!”

Frona Eunice Wait. Wines and Vines of California. The Bancroft Company, 1889.

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The Origins of Californian Cabinet Wine

I knew that Carl Bundschu introduced a line of Cabinet wines in 1935, starting with the 1933 vintage.  Exactly how long this line existed is not known.  Tom Mendes of Inglenook Vineyards could not find any specific  information about a Cabinet Port so he looked into the Special Reserve Limited Bottling designation from the bottle and also for non-vintage Port.  In speaking with the Chateau Administrator they found inventoried one bottle of Non-vintage Ruby-Port Special Reserve Limited Bottling along with other bottles of non-vintage Sherry and non-vintage Port.  Having felt I exhausted the inquiry into Special Reserve Limited Bottling the next step was to look into the history of Californian Cabinet wines.

Inglenook, Wines and Vines of California, Image from Thirstyreader.

The Inglenook Vineyard, Wines and Vines of California, Image from Thirstyreader.

I decided to search www.winefiles.org which is a project of the Sonoma County Wine Library.  In it I found reference to an article published by Wines & Vines in 1935 describing Carl Bundschu’s Cabinet wines.  Andrew Adams, a staff writer at Wines & Vines, kindly scanned the article for me.  Here are the relevant bits:

“Cabinet” Wines

In common with many others, we have often wondered just what was meant by “Cabinet” wines.  Carld Bundschu, of the Inglenook Winery at Rutherford, has set us straight.  He points out the term “Cabinet” applied particularly to the famous Steinberg vineyard of Germany…

Mr. Bundschu says the Inglenook Winery was built along lines similar to the “Cabinet” found at Steinberg…  There are produced Inglenook’s finest vintages and hence termed “CABINET WINES”.

Wine and Vines, 1935.

Carl Bundschu attributes the term to the Cabinet at Steinberg and there is reference to J. L. W. Thudichum, M.D., Treatise on Wines.  Bundschu is apparently refering to the 1894 edition of A Treatise on Wines.  This is actually the abridged version of J. L. W. Thudichum and August Dupre’s exhaustive A Treatise on Wines published in 1872.  As a follow-up to Cyrus Reddings’ seminal A History of Modern Wines, Thudicum and Dupre were directed by Legislature to provide a decisive reference of viticulture and vinification from around the world.  The book was aimed at the serious public and others interested in viticulture as a legitimate branch of agronomy.  In published form it ran to almost 800 pages.  In 1894 Thudichum published an abridged version designed for reading which ran half the length.  It is not surprising that Carl Bundschu references a 40 year old wine book. In Frank Schoonmaker and Tom Marvel’s American Wines, published 1941 they point out, “…Captain Niebaum imported from Germany not only a good deal of admirable oak cooperage but, what was much more unusual, a unique and extremely valuable library of books dealing with the vine.”  Perhaps it is in this library that Bundschu found inspiration for his new label of wines.

Close to this latter hall is the so-called Cabinet, where the cabinet wines are kept.  This is a vault above ground, but protected by double walls and by trees and shrubs from the external heat of the atmosphere and rays of the sun.  It has therefore the same equable temperature as the best vault underground.  In very hot weather it is, however, kept cool by the floor being sprinkled with water, for which purpose a special pump has been arranged in the cabinet itself.

J. L. W. Thudichum and August Dupre.  A Treatise on the Origin, Nature, and Varieties of Wine. 1872.

Scenes from Inglenook Vineyards, A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California, Google Books.

Scenes from Inglenook Vineyards, A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California, Google Books.

As far as the construction of the Inglenook winery we may return to Wines and Vines of California.

To insure a proper receptacle for the wines, Captain Niebaum erected a cellar and winery, which was completed in 1887, and which, for perfection of detail and elegant finish, has no equal in American.  With an eye to the beautiful, as well as to the practical, the spot chosen for this winery was most judiciously selected.  Situated on the slope of one of the undulations, its rear sheltered by a solid hill of stone, Nature has assisted Science in maintaining in the vaults a uniform temperature, so necessary to the care and the development of wines.  The winery is built of gray and trimmed with brown-stone quarried on the estate.  It is three stories in height, with double roofs.  The architecture is semi-Gothic and Eastlake in design.  Its dimensions are length, 220 feet: breadth, center 72 feet, wings 62 feet; capacity, 500,000 gallons; structure, of stone and iron, with concrete floors throughout; the vaults are arched in cathedral style, and protected by double doors, thus maintaining a normal temperature of 60 F during the whole year.

Frona Eunice Wait. Wines and Vines of California. The Bancroft Company, 1889.

At the time the Steinberg wines were auctioned off every year in Erbach.  The auction wine was sold in 1,200 liter pieces.  The cabinet wines were sometimes sold in smaller sizes and bottles.  For individual bottles there is mention of Light Claret at 15s. per dozen, 1864 Rauenthaler at 18s. per dozen, 1862 Rauenthaler at 54s. per dozen,  and 1858 Steinberger Cabinet at 120s. per dozen.  As for the price per piece we find:

The price of Steinberg wine varies from £65 per piece to £600 and £700; the latter being the most exceptional and finest cabinet wines.

J. L. W. Thudichum and August Dupre.  A Treatise on the Origin, Nature, and Varieties of Wine. 1872.

Thus the introduction of Inglenook Cabinet wines references the construction of the winery, the quality of the wine, and the price they fetched.  But Inglenook was not the first Californian winery to carry the Cabinet designation.  This honor appears to be bestowed upon Edge Hill winery.  It is the oldest bonded winery in California dating back to 1867.  It submitted two cases of wine to the 1889 Universal Exposition at Paris which included five different Cabinet wines.  Inglenook was present as well but their submissions consisted of Hock, Gutedel, Riesling, Burger, Zinfandel, Claret, and Sauternes.  Turning back to Edge Hill we see:

Edge Hill Wine Company, St. Helena, California, agency, 12 Barclay street, New York city: Two cases containing specimens cabinet Riesling, cabinet hock, Sauterne, golden Chasselas, cabinet claret, select claret, Zinfandel claret, cabinet Burgundy, sweet Muscatel, sweet Tokay, cabinet port, and brandy.

United States Commissioners to the Universal Exposition of 1889 at Paris, Volume 5. GPO, 1891.

Edge Hill was noted for the “excellence and absolutely purity” of their wines and brandies.  Built by William Scheffler in 1875, the main cellar had the capacity for 400,000 gallons, a storehouse which could hold 150,000 gallons, and a distillery of some 10,000 gallons.  In 1879 the entire vineyard was grafted with noble varietals from the Old World.  I asked Edge Hill about the origin of their Cabinet designated wines.  Estate Directory Wendi Webster commented that the term was used to signify “a wine of higher quality.”

It is noticeable that through the years it was the ports, brandies and sherries of Edge Hill that garnered the most awards.  Scheffler’s greatest successes came from his distilled and fortified products.  The highest award he was to receive in his lifetime came from the World Fair of 1889 in Paris.

Edge Hill Chronology, 2000.

It is possible that William Scheffler had read Thudichum and Dupre’s treatise for the timing works out.  In 1880 the State Board of Viticultural Commissioners was created.  At this point viticulture contributed a notable amount to the state revenue.  There were not many out of state markets for Californian wine and the vineyards were still recovering from the Phylloxera.  According to Vincent Carosso The California Wine Industry the “short crop of 1879, the exhausted supplies of old stock, and the sudden increased demand of 1880 made it difficult to meet the requirements of new markets.”  The Commission felt there was a lack of scientific knowledge of viticulture so it set about building a library.  After purchasing all of the books in English it moved on to French, German, Italian, and Spanish.  By 1887 the commission had more than 400 books in the library.  Perhaps William Scheffler came across the treatise in the commission library.

John Daniel Jr. and the Heublein Years

In my next post I continue my investigation by looking at the John Daniel Jr and Heublein years.  I eventually uncover the true identity of the Inglenook Cabinet Port.

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