All the Oscars aside, Francis Ford Coppola is a legend mostly because he’s directed the movies that people just like you love to quote. A lot. But you knew that part.
What fewer people know is that Coppola’s also got his name on a fairly sizeable wine empire that boasts one of California’s best-selling Bordeaux-style red blends (his Black Label Claret Cabernet Sauvignon). Coppola has been busy on the wine front in recent years, acquiring the fabled Inglenook brand name to use for his well-regarded Rutherford winemaking estate in Napa Valley (where he recently brought on Bordeaux vintner Philippe Bascaules) and finally establishing a family-friendly, events-oriented home in Sonoma for his more widely distributed Francis Coppola Wine brand (headed up by winemaker Corey Beck). Coppola’s Napa endeavor is brooding, complex and expensive, the Apocalypse Now of the fine wine world, while his Sonoma destination and its inexpensive, tasty wines are a lot more Peggy Sue Got Married —well-executed, just a lot more approachable.
I caught up with the Academy Award–winning director to talk some wine; here’s what he had to say.
Playboy.com: You've talked in the past about how your family made wine for personal consumption for decades before you started Francis Ford Coppola Wines. Would you describe establishing a large California wine brand as being inevitable for you, or somewhat accidental, or something in between?
Coppola: That, I have to admit, was accidental—it coincided with the recent interest of American people in wine, and because of that, I believe, the company prospered.
Playboy.com: Your interview with Playboy is part of the 50 Years of the Playboy Interview, a set now being released for Amazon Kindle. In that interview, you talked about how your then-current movies—Godfathers I and II, and The Conversation—were negative or dark in tone, but that internally you were actually the opposite, a very positive person. Are you positive about the current state of the wine business? Was your plan to have Francis Ford Coppola Wines focus on everyday enjoyment an offshoot of that positivity?
Coppola: I remain a very positive person and optimistic about the future. I love people, especially little children—that defines my personality. I'll always be the camp drama counselor who grew up to be a movie director.
Playboy.com: Your new Francis Ford Coppola Winery destination in Sonoma is quite a daring effort and not something that most would readily conjure up when thinking about wine country. For example, there's a pavilion based on the bandstand in Godfather Part II, a swimming pool and cabins that evoke the New Jersey shore, a restaurant, shop, memorabilia from some of your most successful films; this isn't stodgy, wine snob stuff going on here. It almost seems as if establishing that in Sonoma was a nose-thumbing at the fine wine establishment, a sort of "fuck you, wine ought to be fun, it ought to be about family, it should be accessible and celebrated!" What drove you to create that in the heart of California wine country?
Coppola: I always loved the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and somehow wanted to do something inspired by that, and yes, a place where families could enjoy themselves together and have fun—certainly not in the standard amusement park format, but something that had a touch of Old World charm, yet designed to appeal to every member of the family.
Playboy.com: In your Playboy interview nearly 40 years ago, you discussed critics that you admire. Are there wines that you admire? Are there any wines that are so good to you that they compare to the experience of winning an Academy Award, or wrapping up a film project that you've poured your heart and soul into? Maybe a wine that you'd wish that you had created, or just one that you often find yourself sitting back with at the end of the day?
Coppola: Wines are so much the result of a particular geographical area. So, yes, there are parts of the world that grow especially delicious fruit: fine apples, or pears and peaches. And also of course wine grapes benefit from the number of conditions that might all convene at a particular piece of land. There are many wines that I love; in fact, most our neighbors’ wines in the Napa Valley are wonderful. Is it possible not to love the wonderful wines of Bordeaux? And for me, personally, my favorites are the Rhône wines, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and the Vosne-Romanée wines.
Playboy.com: You've brought characters to the screen that can only be described as iconic. They're part of pop culture, and for a lot of people they're as familiar as family members. In your mind's eye, are you ever sharing a bottle of your wine with one of those characters? Or are they more distant for you?
Coppola: I really don't think of the characters in my movies that way. I really don't think of my movies very much at all, but I am focused on whatever work I'm writing. Right now, I'm attempting a very ambitious original screenplay, possibly the most that I've ever tried, and so all my hopes and imagination are tied up with it.
A new original screenplay? And one that the man behind the Godfather films, The Outsiders and Bram Stoker's Dracula calls “ambitious”? Hell, sign me up for that!
The Juice: Francis Ford Coppola Winery makes a couple of dozen wines under ten different sub-label collections, which is fun for the intrepid but can be a little daunting to navigate at first. I tasted through samples of some of their recent releases and can recommend a couple to get you started on your imbibing.
2010 Francis Ford Coppola Winery Votre Santé Chardonnay (California, $14)
California Chardonnay has gotten a (mostly justified) bad rap lately as the muffin-top equivalent of the white wine world. The Votre Santé is a nice break from that kind of flabby presentation—it’s got aromas of juicy ripe peaches, buttered toast and melons, but despite that opulence, the mouthfeel is pithy and offers a lot of lip-smacking acidity and minerality. It’s at once hedonistic yet refreshing, like you just stepped out of a party for a quickie with your girl, and then the two of you rejoined the festivities a few minutes later like nothing ever happened.
2009 Francis Ford Coppola Winery Director’s Cut Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley, $25)
Dry Creek Valley is a prime spot for Zinfandel, and this wine is a nice introduction to some of what DCV Zin can offer when it’s done well. Toast, vanilla and sweet spice aromas sit on top of the raisin, black cherry and juicy, jammy black raspberry fruit, and you get a dash of dried kitchen herbs to top it all off. It’s generous and tasty, and at its core there’s a bit of the tangy red plum flavors that are one of the hallmarks of DCV Zinfandel. A sexy wine, but it knows its way around the dinner table, too, and ought to play nice with just about anything from the grill.
About the Author: Want to learn more about maximizing your wine pleasure? Visit Joe Roberts’ award-winning website 1WineDude.com, where you can find him regularly roasting wine's sacred cow (and pairing it with robust, obscure red). Joe is a certified wine geek and has been called "an original" by media maven Gary Vaynerchuk, "provocative" by the Seattle Times and "a Robin Hood in the exclusive world of vineyards and corkings" by The Urban Grocer. His wine knowledge has been tapped by the L.A. Times, New York Times, CNBC.com, Mutineer Magazine, Palate Press, Mint.com, and The Washington Post.