GEYSERVILLE, Calif. - Movie director and entrepreneur Francis Ford Coppola bought this bucolic, gently terraced Sonoma County winery in 2006, with plans to diversify the property by offering some resort-like features. Some of those new features premiered in late July; others are among the coming attractions for late fall.
My wife and I got a preview of this work-in-progress at a press luncheon yesterday, followed by a walk-around with Sally Srok, Vice President, Hospitality, at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The place is good now; it's going to get better.
Falling under the corporate umbrella of Francis Ford Coppola Presents LLC, the winery - which is open daily from 11 a.m. during the current renovation - is located in Sonoma's Alexander Valley, a prime wine-making spot. It's across the ridge from Napa Valley, where Coppola has been making wine at his Rubicon Estate for some time. The expanding winery doesn't have overnight lodging like some of the great bodegas we experienced in Mendoza, Argentina's prime wine country, but it is blossoming with just about everything else.
I have been watching Coppola's work on screen from "You're A Big Boy Now,'' made in 1966 at the beginning of his career, to "Tetro,'' his recent shot-in-Argentina family drama, which marks an artistically satisfying return to personal filmmaking for him. I was initially skeptical of Coppola's wine-making efforts, partly because making wine can be more a hobby than a serious business for stars who glitter in other fields, and partly because I'd sampled some of the lower-end Coppola wines and thought they were just OK.
After tasting high-end Coppola vintages with Corey Beck, director of winemaking, however, I am revising my opinion upward. These are very good wines, and Rustic, the first of the winery's two restaurants, dishes fresh, seasonal, sustainable, Italian-inspired food that matches up nicely with the wine. The Rustic staff say the director, himself, tasted every dish before it went on the menu. The view from the Rustic terrace isn't too shabby either, allowing a visitor's eye to sweep over lovely vineyards bordered by fruit-bearing olive trees.
If you know northern California's famous wine country, you know that the small town of Geyserville is a long drive for most visitors, being some 90 minutes north of San Francisco, farther out than better-known places. Getting people there - and getting them to stick around a while - is one reason Coppola is diversifying the property. A handsome new hillside visitors' center opened last month. A new Pool Cafe with its own menu, swimming pool and cabins, is scheduled for late fall. Bocce ball courts, outdoor game boards, picnic tables and a performing-arts pavilion are also under construction. Husband-and-wife Francis and Eleanor Coppola intend the destination to be family-friendly, Sally Srok explained, giving visitors of all ages something fun to do.
If you are a fan of Francis Coppola's movies - among them, classics like ''The Godfather'' I and II and "The Conversation,'' and near-classics such as "Apocalypse Now'' - you'll enjoy, as we did, checking out the movie memorabilia on display in the main building. It includes typewritten scripts, posters, the hand-written cast list for the original "Godfather,'' costumes, wigs - and, perhaps best of all, the ornate desk and leather chair that Marlon Brando used in the first "Godfather.'' There are also items from Sophia Coppola's films, such as the enchanting tone-poem "Lost in Translation,'' her 2004 fish-out-of-water tale of two lost American souls in Tokyo - set partly in one of the world's great hotels, the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
At lunch yesterday, we enjoyed a 2008 Chardonnay, an artfully blended 2007 red, wittily called Director's Cut, and especially a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, named Archimedes, after one of Francis Coppola's uncles and the famous mathematician of antiquity. Retailing for $50, Archimedes is made in limited production and is available only at the winery shop. Robust but subtle, with good fruit, good tannins and a purple, inky color not unlike Argentine Malbecs, it's good value considering its high quality - and a killer match for a good steak.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery is located at 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, CA 95441, just off U.S. Highway 101 at the Independence Lane exit. Toll-free tel. 877.590.3299. Web: http://www.franciscoppolawinery.com/.