Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

If I asked what your favorite Francis Ford Coppola film is, you might come back with “Apocalypse Now,” one from “The Godfather” trilogy, or perhaps “The Outsiders,” which is again gaining attention thanks to the release of Rob Lowe’s tell-all bio.

Great films all, but I have a personal preference for a couple of considerably less successful Coppola pics. “One from the Heart,” released in 1982, reportedly cost $26 million to make but grossed less than $700,000 and forced Francis into a decade of financial difficulties. The second, “Tucker: The Man and his Dream.” performed better but was still considered something less than a success.

In addition to great scores (by Tom Waits and Joe Jackson, respectively) both of these nearly-forgotten films displayed whimsy, innovation, romance and a sense that, though one can’t overcome all obstacles, failure doesn’t diminish the beauty of the attempt.

I thought of those films the other day while speaking with Corey Beck, the director of winemaking and general manager of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma County.

Consider that the property not only produces wines, it also houses a huge outdoor swimming pool surrounded by day cottages that families can rent, surely a first for a California winery. It also houses Rustic, a cafe overlooking the vineyards that features an Argentine grill manned by a grill specialist known as an asador whose sole task is to grill meats to perfection. To top things off, there is a bar so authentic that its Dark and Stormy uses the prescribed Gosling’s Rum and Ginger Beer, just as they do in Bermuda.

All of these things – wine, architecture, family, food, and drink – make Francis happy. This winery is the physical embodiment of the innovation, whimsy, romance and passion that characterized the films I mentioned earlier.

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The Coppola Winery began in 2006 when Francis purchased, from the Foster’s Wine Estates, the gorgeous Chateau Souverain property in the town of Geyserville in the Alexander Valley appellation. He had been making wine with great success in Napa since early 1979 at an historic estate (originally called Niebaum-Coppola but now know as Rubicon) and needed to expand to keep up with the production demands of his growing Diamond Series.

Coppola and Beck (whose family once owned a property in nearby Knights Valley that now belongs to ex-San Francisco 49er Joe Montana), decided to move to Sonoma, where they could keep up with demand and also make some wines specifically from great Sonoma vineyards. Beginning with 12 wines five years ago, Beck now oversees production of 45 wines in the Geyserville facility.

Beck, who started work with Francis in 1998, has winemaking in his blood. He is the grandson of a winemaker who toiled in the vineyards at Chateau Montelena. Currently residing in St. Helena in the Napa Valley, Beck has one of the world’s great commutes, through the vineyards on Highway 128 where he can see nature’s progress on the vines each morning.

There are 25 acres planted at the winery, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon used in the Director’s Cut series of wines (more on that in a moment), but Beck has cemented deals with 120 different growers to purchase fruit. This, in an economy where many growers were pleased to find new markets for their grapes.

Beck’s wines range from the whimsical (there’s that word again) Sofia, a sparkling Blanc de Blanc from Monterey County that was originally concocted for Francis’ daughter, Sofia’s wedding but has since become a sensation in “mini” cans, to an FC Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon sold exclusively at the winery.

The FC (Francis Coppola) Reserve wines are all single-vineyard offerings from many of Sonoma’s top properties, including a Pinot Noir from Dutton Ranch and Chardonnay from the Saralee’s Vineyard. The FC Reserves also feature labels that can only be described as, dare I say it, whimsical, created by Academy-Award winning production designer Dean Tavoularis, who was responsible for the look and feel of both “One from he Heart” and “Tucker.”

Now about the Director’s Cut wines. Beck says that a filmmaker shoots miles of film, but only the best “cuts” make it into the final product. Similarly, the Directors Cut wines feature only the top shots, or clusters of grapes, from a particular varietal. The series includes five wines: a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, a Zinfandel, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend called the Cinema Cut, which uses the best of the Zin and Cab with a touch of Petite Syrah to produce a rich, big and spicy wine.

Perfect for those with a touch of whimsy.

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