With a ceremonial luncheon coming up next Tuesday at the Finnish Embassy in Washington, winemaker Tom Ferrell disclosed here that Inglenook Vineyards plans to produce a special, "collector's item" wine in 1979 to commemorate the winery's 100th annivesary.
Although the first Inglenook vineyards actually date back to 1873, and while construction of the stone winery at Rutherford was completed in 1887, descendants of the winery's founder, Finnish sea captain Gustave Niebaum, have long recognized 1879 as the founding year.
While the final selection of an appropriate centennial wine will have to await harvest reports from this year's vintage, Ferrell now favors production of a variety of wine not heretofore produced-possibly a sparkling or dessert wine. Or, he suggests, it might be a wine from one of Inglenook's older vineyards using older viniculture techniques.
Ferrell, a University of California at Davis graduate who has been with Inglenook since 1970, is already pleased with reaction to the winery's 1974 Special Cask cabernet sauvignon, released recently month as an Inglenook "Centennial Selection" and soon to be available in Washington-area retail shops at about $8 a bottle. Likening the 1974 Cask Cabernet (which contains 20 percent Merlot grapes) to the acclaimed 1968 cabernet, the young winemaker describes the wine as "intense, high in alcohol, rich, but not exceedingly fruity."
Although pleased with the 1974 vintage in general, Ferrell believes that the unbounded enthusiams of the wine trade has made it a somewhat overrated. Such overzealousness may be explained, at least in part, by comparisions to more recent vintages in California. For example, results of the 1975 harvest of cabernet sauvignon grapes at Inglenook was so disappointing (only one-fifth of the cabernet will be bottled. The rest will be sold as bulk wine) that, for the first time in years, no 1975 Cask cabernet will be produced.
Ferrell prefers the 1977 cabernet to the somewhat lighter-style 1976, noting that most California vineyards were better prepared in the latter year of the 1976-77 drought.
Although three leading California wineries (Simi, Spring Mountain and Sterling) have recently lost their winemakers, young Ferrell expresses no current interest in starting a new winery of his own. Having grown up on a California fam, he is all-too-familiar with the shifting fortunes of smallteam agricultural operations. He has respect for, but no envy of the life style of winemakers at "boutique" wineries.
Surveying current conditions, Ferrell notes that the recent winter has yielded plenty of rain and numerous mild frosts, but there has been no "winter kill" of vines such a last occurred in 1970 (when production was one-third of normal). Prices for pinot chardonnay and sauvignon blanc grapes have reached all-time highs, while costs for cabernets sauvignon are down from earlier peaks and, due to frenetic plantigs in recent years, holding steady. As is true for other businesses, however, Ferrell adds that energy costs are now one of the winery's biggest overhead expenses.
Nevertheless, Inglenook spared no expense in January when it hosted a lavish centennial dinner in San Francisco at which bottles of its 1941, 1943, 1958 and 1959 cabernet sauvignon were highlighted. A second centennial dinner was held in Los Angeles and the private luncheon in Washington, which the ambassador of Finland is hostiing, will feature several decades of Inglennok cabernet wines.
For Inglenook connoisseurs, however, the treat of the centennial year may be an offering of Inglenook wines spanning the last century at the 11th annual national auction conducted by the winery's parent company, Heublein, Inc. of Connecticut. This year's auction will be held in Chicago on May 24.
Admission to the auction in Chicago is by catalogue only, which may be purchased in advance at $15 each from Heublein, Inc., Box 505, Farmington, Conn. 06032. Catalogues will also be available at the door for $20. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption