Did you know that the famous Napa Valley is historically connected to Finland? In the spirit of Finland's centennial year, we are highlighting remarkable American entrepreneurs that have Finnish roots.
We are starting the series with Gustaf Nybom, or better known as Gustave Niebaum in the U.S. Although the first American commercial vineyard was established in 1858, it was not until the sea captain and serial entrepreneur Gustaf Nybom established Inglenook in 1879, that Napa wineries became globally known. But what was a Finnish entrepreneur doing on the West Coast in the late 1800’s?
Nybom was born in Helsinki in 1842, and he obtained his maritime degree as a teenager. Having completed his degree, Nybom decided to move to the West Coast of the United States in hope of a bright future. He established his own company called "Alaska Commercial Company" (ACC) which quickly grew into a major shipping company and a trading house. Known as a charismatic leader and a risk taker, Nybom became one of the greatest fur traders of his time and extremely wealthy. ACC is still the largest general retailer in Alaska, although not owned by Finns anymore.
Nybom had an interest in wines, and in 1879 he bought the Inglenook winery and the surrounding land in Rutherford. Nybom was a perfectionist, therefore always aiming for the highest quality in everything he did. Quite fittingly, the principle of Inglenook was "Pride, not profit." Inglenook became a successful winery. In 1899 its wines won multiple prizes in France, and the wines were even served in the White House, making Napa wines well-known globally.
Despite Nybom's death in 1908 and the Prohibition in 1920-1933, Inglenook, unlike many other wineries, managed to stay in business. The quality of wine was kept high – for example Inglenook's 1941 Cabernet Sauvignon is considered one of the best wines in the world. However, due to changed customer preferences the production of wine became less viable, and eventually Inglenook was sold to mass producers.
In 1975, film producer Francis Ford Coppola bought a part of the winery, and currently he owns all of the original land. The old main building has been completely restored. The Finnish roots are an integral and respected part of the winery and its identity, and Nybom's vision and heritage continue to live on.