C is for Coppola (Francis Ford): Filmmaker and… Wine Maker


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If you find yourself in Café Zoetrope in North Beach (San Francisco), chances are that you might spot Francis Ford Coppola (Zoetrope isn’t a mere hangout, he also owns the place, so voilà). I saw him there twice, and truth be told: Coppola is the godfather.

Mafia movies are an important and popular genre in the American movie industry because of the high number of Italian immigrants to this country, but Coppola can be seen as the gold standard within the genre. Of course, he made other movies, too, but what may be more interesting altogether is that second career of Coppola: after all, it doesn’t happen every day that a big film maker also becomes an impressive wine maker.

If you read about Coppola, it’s clear that while movies are still his great love, he doesn’t like the stress and deadlines of shooting a movie. Maybe that’s why the bio-rhythm of wine and the patience you must have to develop a good wine, are closer to Coppola’s actual personality and speed.

It all started as an extreme family hobby. On one of his websites, Coppola may be bragging that wine making was already a family tradition since the 1920s, but what he’s talking about here is that his grandfather shipped grapes from California during the Prohibition in New York and used his bath tub to ferment them.

At first, Coppola had his eye on a small wine farm in the Napa Valley but that soon turned out to be 630 hectares of the Inglenook Estate where Coppola and his family squashed the first grapes bare foot in a carriage house that dates from the nineteenth century.

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The results were marginal at best, so Coppola hired a wine maker who was responsible for the Niebaum Coppola label. For a moment, it looked like Coppola might lose the Inglenook Estate because he had to use it as collateral in the financing of his famous Vietnam movie Apocalypse Now. However, profits from  Godfather III were the saving grace.

In the meanwhile, Coppola wine started showing real promise and quality and, with the purchase of yet another estate (Chateau Souverain in Sonoma (Geyserville)), Coppola is well on his way to realize his dream, i.e. become the Chateau Margaux of the Americas. In a figurative sense.

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The Inglenook name has been changed into Rubicon, after the red wine that built Coppola’s  reputation. By the way, it was really necessary to expand because Inglenook, now the Rubicon estate, was stampeded by tourists who weren’t interesting in tasting  or savoring wine but who wanted to see the “godfather estate”.

Whether Copppola will become the US Chateau Margaux remains to be seen; he did expand the family company further with a food production line (pasta and sauce mostly), a luxury hotel in Belize, a production company in Argentina and a palazzo/boutique hotel in the Southern town of  Basilicata where his family comes from. And naturally, he is always making another movie.

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It’s the typical American success story, isn’t it? While the great-grandparents arrived from Southern Italy at Ellis Island with barely a penny in their pockets, the great-grandson returns to Basilicata to buy the biggest place in town. Coppola has got it made. Here’s to you Sir Francis! Cin cin!

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