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Francis Ford Coppola - Interview

Perfecting the Rubicon

Francis Ford Coppola
In 1975, Francis Ford Coppola, the five-time Oscar-winning director-writer and producer of such epic films as The Godfather trilogy, and his wife Eleanor, purchased part of the historic Napa Valley estate founded more than a century before by Gustave Niebaum, noted for its legendary Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. In 1978, the Coppolas produced the first vintage of Niebaum-Coppola, with a unique black cherry cola taste. In 2006, he changed the label to Rubicon Estate, and five years later to Inglenook when he finally completed the estate's reunification. The first Inglenook wine — 2009 CASK Cabernet Sauvignon — was released earlier in 2012.
Historic Inglenook Winery Restored to Former Glory

In the 1990s, Coppola extended the brand to include a multiplicity of ventures, including a new line of mammarella pastas made from antique molds, and organic sauces, linens, pottery, candles, writing tools and pasta bowls. In 2000, we caught up with Coppola at the end of his eight-cities-in-five-days hop around the US to promote his Niebaum-Coppola brand, a trip made endurable by his new Venetian blue Lear jet, complete with espresso machine. What was your earliest experience with wine?

Francis Ford Coppola: Growing up in Long Island, wine was always at the table and they let us drink it with water, though we preferred it with ginger ale. We called wine at that level rosso and bianco.

G: When did you begin to make wine?

FFC: 1977. My father, my kids, my wife helped stomp the grapes barefoot. We made about four barrels.

G: Do you still stomp your grapes with bare feet?

FFC: We do it every year at a harvest party, invite the neighbors, do a special batch that way, and then drink the wine.

G: What was your segue from the movie business to the wine business?

FFC: It was just after the first Godfather, and I wanted a place that would be a home for my family. I found the Niebaum Estate and bid on it at auction. I was amazed that a big company like Seagrams, or the established winemakers like Mondavi, didn't buy that property. That they let a filmmaker come in and take a jewel of Napa Valley was a miracle!

G: How did it develop from there?

FFC: Growing up I was always conscious of the fact that many of my friends couldn't afford expensive wine, so we made the Black Label Claret, and then we introduced the Rosso and Bianco, in the $10 range. We produce a family of wine that touches all uses and occasions. The business doubles every year.

G: What was your most hair-raising moment in the wine business?

FFC: When I put the winery up to secure a loan to make Apocalypse Now.

G: You almost lost the ranch on that one, didn't you?

FFC: Almost! Godfather III helped me save it. Then, directing Bram Stoker's Dracula allowed me to buy the second half of the estate. We now have 2,000 acres and the vineyards are certified organic, farmed almost as they were at the turn of the century.

G: All this expansion in your wine and food business sounds like a full-time job. Is it taking precedence over your movie-making?

FFC: Oddly enough, I don't put that much time into the business now. I'm the artistic director and I help sell it ... I've used all this to make a transition in my film career. The wine business is giving me the time to write, so one day I'll be able to make another film that's more my film.

G: And what's your goal in the wine business?

FFC: To perfect the Rubicon. We know we have the earth and the fruit to make the ultimate wine of its kind.

(Updated: 05/23/13 BH)


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