The Godfather of Grapes

Francis Ford Coppola Winery

With six Academy Awards to his name, Francis Ford Coppola has served up some of cinema’s greatest moments, now he’s helping today’s Oscar winners celebrate their night of nights.

When the 2020 Academy Award winners recently tucked into their post-awards party fare, they washed it down with Francis Ford Coppola wines poured from gold-plated decanters that mimic the little statuette everyone in movies seems to crave.

He may not be onstage to pick up an award but he still gets to thank the Academy as his eponymous vineyard continued a multi-year tradition of providing the wines at the swanky Governors Ball.

For the Ball’s organising committee including celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck, the event is all about showcasing sustainable Californian produce and the organically-produced Francis Ford Coppola wines certainly fit the bill.

With a career spanning some of the film industry’s most iconic pictures including The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now as well as six Academy Awards, Coppola’s place in the pantheon of Hollywood greats is assured but he has also now deeply ingrained the Coppola name as one of the leading families of Napa Valley’s famed winemaking tradition.

And it all started so simply. Fresh from the monstrous success of The first two Godfather films, he and his wife Eleanor went in search of a property “to get away to in the summer, so that our children could be amongst nature.”

“The valley was little more than an hour away, and I thought that if we bought an acre of vineyard as well, then we could turn the stomping and crushing of the grapes into a family activity,” Coppola says.

“That is honestly all I thought it would be, just a little fun for the kids and us. I never imagined we would one day have our own wine label and a prominent winemaking facility on the site.”

Coppola and his wife Eleanor’s 1,560 acre summer home – which they bought with the proceeds of the first Godfather film – would go on to be the first of two wineries the director would put his name to.


Connecting generations

Speaking about his initial vision for the estate, Coppola said he always thought it had the potential to be much more than just a winery.

“I saw families being able to come and enjoy the wine amongst the scenic beauty of the valley. As the project evolved, I began to envision a kind of wine wonderland being built there. My happiest memories as a child were when the family would all come over to the house and we would have dinner and the adults were drinking wine.

That to me is pure happiness, when everyone is together and healthy and the adults are drinking wine and talking and the kids are having fun.”

There is a heavy indication of Coppola’s Italian heritage in the want to create a space enjoyed by multiple generations in his family’s winemaking resort.

“Nowadays perhaps there is a separation between the parents and the children. When I was younger it used to be that the children would live with their parents and grandparents and the entire family unit would stay close together for many, many years.

“So my vision could not just be for the parents who could enjoy the wine and food in peace. I wanted to make something that was suitable for the children as well, with music and performances of all kinds and places to swim and play games with each other,” Coppola says.

While the estate gave Coppola a chance to indulge his traditional love of food, wine and family, the romantic vintner in him soon turned back to his original vineyard acquisition in Napa and the longstanding history of the land he had purchased there almost on a whim in the mid-1970s.


Mythical wine

In 1879, wealthy Finnish fur trader and mariner Gustave Niebaum founded a winery in the same location – it had produced some of the valley’s finest vintages under the name Inglenook.

In 2012, Coppola paid $25,000 at an auction to acquire a single bottle of Inglenook from the Niebaum-era Napa Valley vineyards.

“That bottle of wine was from the famous 1941 Inglenook vintage, and I had spent many, many years trying to find a bottle from that time,” he laughs. “I drank it with some of my closest friends, and it was one of the greatest wines I have ever had the pleasure to taste.

“Still to this day, I can think of few wines that have bettered it in terms of taste. It awoke a passion in me to unite the vineyards once again under their proper name of Inglenook.”

The bottle was a celebration of sorts for Coppola who had over the years bought the whole Niebaum estate and in 2011 had resurrected the Inglenook name on the estate when he bought the brand back from a corporate entity.

“I was finally able to purchase the Inglenook name – so that the vineyard could once again be called what it should always have been called. That trademark alone was more expensive that the rest of the estate – but it was worth it as a gesture to the brilliance of Niebaum before me.”

For Coppola, the secret to great wine lies in the vineyard and all along “I have just focussed on the fruit”.

“This valley has always had grapes that have held the greatest potential, and when Niebaum controlled the plot over 100 years ago he was producing wines that were considered above and beyond any of their rivals.

“What we did was try to unlock that same potential in the fruit.”

As for the fairly obvious link between film and wine, Coppola remarks that “I can now say my films have aged very well’, although the jury might be still out on some of his later efforts dating from Jack in the mid-1990s.

Ian Faulconbridge and contributors

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