Francis Ford Coppola has taken time off from one big project—the filming of his new movie, Youth Without Youth, set in Romania—and is on to the next.
Tonight, the filmmaker-turned-vintner will celebrate his 67th birthday and introduce his new winery, located at the former Chateau Souverain facility in Geyserville, by hosting a party for 2,000 Sonomans.
The yet-to-be-named winery (Coppola is seeking suggestions) will be the alter ego of his Rubicon Estate (known until this year as Niebaum-Coppola) in Napa Valley. While Rubicon pays tribute to the rich heritage of Inglenook, one of Napa's legendary estates, the new winery in Sonoma will carry a simpler message about celebrating life.
"I'm a movie director, so I have to have a theme," Coppola said in an interview on Thursday. "The theme for the Sonoma property is life. I want to create a happy Italian family feeling."
The winery, which is being remodeled, is intended to be a tourist destination in scenic Alexander Valley, with a restaurant and tasting room. The featured wines, which are distributed nationally, will be the Francis Coppola Diamond Series of varietals, Rosso and Bianco, Sofia sparkling wines and a Director's Reserve. The winery will also house much of the film memorabilia once displayed at Rubicon, including costumes and props from Coppola's movies, such as The Godfather, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Tucker.
"I never intended to have a Hollywood museum at what I still call Inglenook," said Coppola. "My goal is to do what Inglenook would have done if it hadn't been separated."
Inglenook was founded in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea captain. Under John Daniel Jr., it set the gold standard for Napa Valley Cabernet, with a string of great Cabernets dating from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. But in the 1960s, Daniel split up the estate, selling Inglenook to the company that became Heublein, which ended up mass marketing jug wines under the Inglenook Navalle label.
Francis and Eleanor Coppola moved to Rutherford in the mid-1970s, purchased part of the old estate, moved into the house built by Neibaum and launched Neibaum-Coppola Winery. Wanting to reunite the historic property, they later acquired the Inglenook winery. Today they own 250 acres in vines around the chateau.
But over the years, Niebaum-Coppola became a victim of its own success, expanding into a series of wines that departed from Coppola's original goal of a single-wine estate winery. "When I started I had no idea [my wines] would become a big national brand," he said, adding that after nearly 30 years in the business, "I still haven't made a nickel."
Rubicon's popularity reached the point where Coppola's staff couldn't handle the crowds. On weekends, the tasting room and winery grounds were packed with tourists. "Frankly, crowd control became a problem," he said.
He was also concerned that the growth of his more popularly priced wines were cutting into the reputation of Rubicon, the flagship red Bordeaux-style blend made from the estate vineyard. Sales of non-estate wines paid the bills, Coppola said, including those for expensive vineyard acquisitions, a winery renovation and caves for barrel aging. But he was concerned that visitors were missing the meaning of Rubicon, modeled after the Bordeaux first-growths.
Renamed as Rubicon Estate, the Napa winery will now focus exclusively on estate-grown wines, including Rubicon, Cask Cabernet, the Blancaneaux white blend, Edizone Pennino Zinfandel and R.C. Reserve (named after his son Roman Coppola), all under the direction of winemaker Scott McLeod. A new management team is headed by master sommelier Larry Stone. Coppola says the goal is to produce a total of 20,000 cases of wine.
Making the new Sonoma winery tourist-oriented is important to Coppola. "I'm very anxious to make Sonoma wine," he said, but he intends to stick with one strategy. "I have one philosophy about business," he said. "I've always wanted to give the public value."
He also likes the opportunity to be more innovative at the new winery, both in the wines it produces and in the packaging it uses.
Known for his extravagant bashes, the event tonight is intended as an open house to show his Sonoma neighbors how Coppola likes to party.
After tonight, Coppola will resume work on Youth Without Youth, an adaptation of a novel by Romanian author Mircea Eliade. The film stars Tim Roth, who plays Dominic Matei, a professor whose life changes after a cataclysmic incident during the dark years prior to World War II.
"I'm at the point in my life where I deal with questions [in movies] I don't know the answer to and hope I'll find the answer by doing the film," Coppola said.
The director spent most of the past year working on location in Bucharest, where he says he took a liking to Romanian wines. "I still drink wine with every meal," he said, "and I always drink the [local] wines where I am."
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