Sunday, March 9, 2014

"You Never Know, You Might Have to Cook for Twenty Guys Someday"

You’re familiar with Francis Ford Coppola, whether you realize it or not.  He, the orchestrator of so many iconic moments in film, has penetrated the vernacular of popular culture to the extent that those who are unacquainted with his movies find themselves quoting lines without realizing that they’re doing so.  In a similar fashion to which a classic such as Casablanca is filled with quotable lines (“We’ll always have Paris,” “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “Round up the usual suspects,” among others), Coppola has delivered comparable sayings.  Never saw The Godfather?  How has that rock that you call home been treating you?  Good?  Funny, you still know “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”  Too freaked-out to see Apocalypse:  Now?  Chances are, you still have a mental image of Marlon Brando gasping out his last “The horror” (come to think of it, those are both Brando lines).

Now, are you aware that he also owns two wineries--one in Napa and one in Sonoma?  His facility in Rutherford dates back to 1879 as the old Inglenook Winery.  Closed during Prohibition, it was re-opened in the 1930s and was purchased by Coppola in 1975.  After undergoing a series of name-changes (Rubicon, Niebaum-Coppola, The Winery Formerly Known as Rubicon, some kind of symbol), it has now settled on Inglenook (again, at least for the time being).  The Coppola Winery in Geyserville, CA is on the old Chateau Souverain location, which is the epicenter of the Coppola Diamond Collection, Director’s Cut, and Sofia, among other labels--we’re talking huge supermarket brands.  Coppola doesn’t see his wine business as a side-venture.  In 2013, Francis Ford Coppola Winery produced 1.25 million cases of wine--17th largest in America, in terms of volume.  

At one point in my career, I made wine for a very large and very corporate outfit. While I value my experience, one of my main, let’s call them disappointments, of large-scale winemaking is the dilution of personality.  There is definite skill in producing wines on the large scale that are consistent in the marketplace year after year; however, if wine that makes you think is what you seek, then chances are mass-produced wine won’t deliver on that level.  And you know what?  Sometimes that’s fine.  Have you ever had a really dynamite wine at a wedding?  Neither has anyone else.  But you enjoyed it, at your steak (or fish, sometimes I like to mix it up, too), danced to “Shout” and had a good time.  That’s exactly what Coppola Winery is--a good time.  The grounds are beautiful--just watch the video!  Granted, it’s March (which is rainy time in Northern California), so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that it looks a lot better in the sun.  There’s a nice pool-area where you and your friends can spend the day, and the restaurant serves the classic Italian standbys--assortment of pizzas, a few different cuts of macaroni, veal, and Coppola’s idiosyncratic Sunday-only bracciole.  We’ve been a few times, and the first time we went I got the salt-baked branzino (a very cool, very ancient way to cook fish).  Seek that out--it really is delicious!  

Coppola offers opportunities to rip on him at just about every turn.  Whether it be his display of Oscars or movie costumes or his pool cabines (for those interested, a cabine is $135 a day, while general pool access is $35--lounge chair not included), it’s easy to think ‘Here’s another rich guy trying to flaunt his money.’  But the truth is, he’s sharing it all.  Try as I might, I’m never going to win an Academy Award, so it’s fun to see one (or five).  All the menu items tie back to his mother and grandmother, and as someone of similar culinary background, I appreciate that.  If it’s truly him coming through in all facets, then I celebrate it.  The wine is definitely secondary at this establishment (much like Napa’s Castello di Amorosa), but a good, competitively-priced meal with stuff to do in the summer is enough to keep us coming back.  


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