The Napa Valley stage is evidently no longer big enough for Francis Ford Coppola. On Tuesday, the Academy Award-winning director-turned-vintner said he plans to buy the current Chateau Souverain facility in Sonoma County and remake it into the Francis Coppola Winery.
Foster's Wine Estates, the Australian wine and beer giant that owns Souverain, will move the winery's production from Geyserville to the company's nearby Asti facility, where it currently ages its red wines. The deal, which is expected to close in February 2006, includes 20 acres of land with a few acres of vines, the winery and bottling facility, a restaurant and a tasting room. The sale price was not disclosed.
Chateau Souverain produces about 180,000 cases annually and is one of Sonoma County's most reliable, value-oriented producers. Fans of its wines--which include Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel bottlings that sell for between $15 and $50--may be anxious about the move. But winemaker Ed Killian said he foresees no changes to his production of high quality wines.
The purchase of Souverain is part of a major expansion and reorganization of The Coppola Companies, and marks a new commitment by the firm to Sonoma County, according to CEO Jay Shoemaker.
In Napa Valley, the company will now focus solely on its estate wines, which total about 15,000 cases a year. In early 2006, the name of its Rutherford facility will be changed from Niebaum-Coppola Winery to Rubicon Estate Winery, after Coppola's flagship wine.
The Souverain facility, redubbed the Francis Coppola Winery, will be home to the company's non-estate brands, including the Francis Coppola Diamond Series wines and the Coppola Presents value blends Rosso and Bianco. Production of these brands has expanded rapidly in recent years, and while Shoemaker declined to reveal the total, it is estimated to be at least several hundred thousand cases a year.
Coppola will also add a new line of Sonoma County wines. "Napa is sort of maxed out," Shoemaker said about expansion possibilities. "We have a great deal of respect for Sonoma County grapes. We think it has a great future. We think they definitely make great Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Alexander Valley Cabernet and Pinot."
The sale of the Souverain facility is part of an ongoing consolidation at Foster's and is consistent with how the Australian wine industry often operates, selling off regional facilities and consolidating winemaking operations in large, centrally located plants.
Foster's has a massive new winery in the works in southern Napa Valley, near the airport, and is consolidating most of its bottling in that plant. Additionally, a new building for Souverain is being constructed at the Asti site, the location of most of Souverain's 300 acres of estate vineyards and once home to the now-defunct Italian Swiss Colony Winery.
Winemaker Ed Killian said he has frequently used the existing Asti site as an overflow facility. "I always made the wine here [at the chateau] but stored most of my reds in barrel up at Asti," Killian said. "The Geyserville winery is a beautiful place, it's gorgeous, but the new facility is being built specifically to our needs. I don't foresee any changes in our winemaking style."
Chateau Souverain was built in 1973 and has had a number of names and owners over the years. Despite its bucolic setting, the winery has seldom been a busy tourist attraction. Although it is situated just off Highway 101, it is hidden among the hills and easy to miss. The winery's restaurant gained considerable fame in the late 1980s when Gary Danko ran the kitchen, but since his departure the restaurant has been an underperformer.
Coppola is rumored to be interested in opening a destination restaurant at the facility. Shoemaker confirmed that the company is considering a restaurant but would offer no details. "As you might imagine, knowing Francis, it will probably be Italian," Shoemaker said.
The restaurant scene in northern Sonoma County has heated up in recent years, with the addition of Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen and the recently heralded Cyrus, both in nearby Healdsburg.
The Souverain site is also zoned to have a hotel, although the county would have to sign off on any such project. "We have no plans for that in the immediate future," Shoemaker said, "but I wouldn't rule it out long-term."
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