Francis Ford Coppola spoke for 2 1/2 hours in Dallas last week, a monologue that covered his Academy Award-winning film career, his very successful wine business, and his grandchildren. But perhaps the most impressive thing was his modesty.
“I like to drink wine, but I don’t make wine,” he told the audience of 150 or so. “I don’t know how to do it. I suppose I’ve learned how it’s done, but that’s not why I do this. I like to drink wine.”
Which, in my 20-plus years of talking to celebrity winery owners, was the first time anyone has been that forthright. Talk to the entrepreneurs, actors, and musicians who get into the wine business, and they throw winespeak around like heart-shaped cards on Valentine’s Day. Maybe they figure that’s how they can make their bones. But Coppola didn’t say brix or clones, never mentioned scores or critics, and spent more time showing pictures of his family — and singing about them — than almost anything else.
There were literally dozens of wines available to taste at the event, but I’ll hold off writing about them. Conditions were not conducive to tasting, with so many people crammed into the lobby of a 1930s movie theater, and the more expensive wines were mixed in with the cheaper ones so it was hard to tell which was which. My general impression: the grocery store-style wines were solid, if a little ordinary.
And they weren’t the biggest attraction anyway. That was Coppola, not only the man who has made some of the greatest films in the history of the movie business, but someone who seems just as happy sharing snaps of his grandchildren as talking camera angles and gross vs. net. A few highlights:
? Coppola got into the wine business by accident, mostly because he liked the swing that was hanging from a tree when he and wife Eleanor wanted to buy a house in Napa Valley in 1975. The tree was in the front of the historic Niebaum mansion, and Coppola said he could see his 4-year-old daughter Sofia (yes, that Sofia) swinging on it. But the mansion included some of the best vineyards in California, and one thing led to another.
? The wine business has exceeded expectations, becoming one of the 30 biggest in the U.S. The 1.25-million case Francis Ford Coppola Winery includes the grocery store brands like Diamond, Rosso, and Bianco, while the high-end wine, including Rubicon, is part of the new Inglenook company, part of his effort to restore one of California’s first great wineries.
? “The biggest change in the wine business since I started? The number of wineries, and not just in Napa, where it’s gone through the roof. I traveled across the country once making a picture, and once we got past Virginia, there was no food and no wine. That’s all changed, and all for the positive. People are so much more knowledgeable, and have learned the more you know about wine, the more you enjoy it.”
? The best explanation ever for the mess that is “Godfather III:” “I didn’t want to make it. Whoever heard of ‘Hamlet III?’ But I had to pay off the bank.”
? Making “Apocalypse Now” taught him that past success never guarantees anything, and he told how he became so angry he threw his Oscars out the window and broke them. That’s because, given the piles of money the first two Godfather pictures made, he said, he assumed he wouldn’t have any trouble getting studio money for “Apocalypse.” Which is exactly the opposite of what happened, and he had to finance it himself.
? And That Movie? Coppola discussed it briefly, noting that it was both a financial and critical failure, and that he wasn’t too happy with it, either. I felt better.
Photo credits: Lisa Stewart