I am a resident in Napa Valley, having lived here for almost 8 years, I consider it my home. Like most residents, I don't go out wine tasting on the weekends, but I do have my tried and true favorites. Niebaum-Coppola holds a special place in my heart for a long list of reasons. Because of some of the comments I've read on this website about the new experiance at this winery, a place beloved by locals and visitors, I felt compelled as a local to share what it's really like there.
For starters, yes, Rubicon Estate used to be known as Niebaum-Coppola. Most locals can't answer this question correctlly, the change is less then 2 busy seasons old and most locals simply don't go out wine tasting. The answer, is that Francis Ford Coppola very wisely opted to remove references to his name and the Hollywood images his name inescapably conjures up. Francis Ford Coppola is seriuos about wine. With "Rubicon Estate", organically grown estate wines that are beginning to garner serious attention from serious wine collectors are now at the forefront, with his Hollywood past - a totally seperate chapter in his life. For the serious wine drinker, carefully produced estate wines is of far more interest than Hollywood movies. In the old days of Niebaum-Coppola, movies mattered, not the wine. Throngs of people flooded the winery making the entire experiance crazed, crowded, and chaotic. In the new format, it's all about the wine - and the tragic / glorious history of the stunningly beautiful120-year old chateau where the winery is housed. With less crowds perusing the grounds, visitors are more able to take in that history and explore an historic structure in comfort. (Insider tip: if you can visit Rubicon Estate during the Fall, make it happen. The front exteriour of the chateau and the surrounding courtyard is positively ablaze with ivy and grape leaves hanging from the pergula in the courtyard in every shade of red, orange, purple, yellow, and gold. Breathtaking!)
A word about the $25 guest fee: Rubicon Estate is part of the Napa Neighbor program. If you have a Napa county I.D., you are a complimentary guest. They also offer extended compliments to designated drivers and minors. Designated drivers will obviosly not be tasting wine at the bar, but they can still enjoy the rest of the offerings, and there is a lot to do and see inside. The guest fee buys you a "guest pass" which is good for three full days. A whole weekend of coming & going! They provide a tour which covers the history of the Chateau, very worth taking if you're a history buff or some one who appreciates a "happy ending". The history is full of trails and triumphs.
There are private tours that you can book ahead of time. They get more technichal about winemaking. Friends have taken some of the private tours and been escorted through the vineyards and in to the wine caves. Ask the Concierge about what is being offered. They have also just started doing a wine & food pairing on the weekends which I have not done but I have attended other wine & food events where the public is invited to the winery and can assure you that the in house Chef is serious about food.
In the Tasting Room you'll find the bar where you'll be escorted by a wine guide through tasting the reserve line of mostly reds, but they save the best for last and tag a tasting of the celebrated Rubicon Cabernet on to the tasting. This is a wine that sells for $115 per bottle. Taste it as part of what you've already paid for!
For me, a local, I don't really need to taste at the bar. But Rubicon Estate also houses the best kept secret in all of Napa Valley - a wine bar they call "Mammarella's" where you can buy any of their wines, including the estate selections, by the glass and just relax away from the crowds at the local restaurants, bars and other wineries. It's quite enjoyable! They also do a coffee service with fresh espresso drinks - latte, mocha, french pressed,etc. Some people bring sandwiches and eat outside in the Mammarella's courtyard. We do!
It's really a very nice time and well worth checking out. The Tasting Room is only part of the experiance. I highly reccommend Mammarella's for a complete selection of their wines by the glass and the atmosphere. The best kept secret in Napa!