On today’s episode of “End of Day Drinks,” we’re talking with the iconic director Francis Ford Coppola. He’s known for his amazing movies, but he’s also just as well known for his amazing wine. While many know him for Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Francis owns many other wineries. We’re going to talk about all of them. We’re going to find out how Francis first fell in love with wine, thanks to his Italian heritage. We’ll also hear the story of how he decided to use his earnings from “The Godfather” to buy a winery.
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From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, this is “End of Day Drinks,” where we sit down with the movers and shakers in the beverage industry. So pour yourself a glass, and listen along with us. Let’s start the show.
K: Everyone, my name is Keith Beavers, and I am the tastings director of VinePair, as well as the host of VinePair’s “Wine 101” podcast. Welcome to “End of Day Drinks.” Today, we are joined by Francis Ford Coppola, film director, producer, writer, winery owner, vintner, I’m sure there’s more. Francis, thank you so much for joining us.
FFC: My pleasure.
K: And as always, today, we are joined by members of the VinePair editorial team. We have VinePair co-founder and CEO Adam Teeter.
A: Hi, Keith. Hi, Francis.
K: We have VinePair senior editor Cat Wolinski.
C: Hello, Francis. Thanks so much for joining us.
FFC: My pleasure, Cat. My pleasure to meet you.
K: We also have VinePair associate editor Katie Brown.
Katie: Hey, guys. Excited to be here today.
K: We also have staff writer Tim McKirdy.
Tim: Hi, guys, how’s it going?
FFC: Doing good.
FFC: And VinePair executive editor Joanna Sciarrino.
Joanna: Hi, everyone. Hi, Francis.
FFC: Hello, Joanna.
K: So, Francis, thank you again for joining us. You’re out on the West Coast? Are you doing some wine out there?
FFC: Well, I’m here in the Napa Valley in Rutherford, actually up in the mountain overlooking beautiful nature. I’m so fortunate and blessed to be able to be here during this difficult pandemic era.
K: You have a passion for wine as much as you have a passion for film. I was just curious: Did one come before the other, or how did that work out?
FFC: Well, you know, I think you can say I have a passion for everything. I have a passion for life. It’s such a privilege to even be alive. All of us can feel that way. But being an Italian American, I was raised in a household on the East Coast, in Long Island. And from the dawn of my consciousness, I never saw a dinner table that didn’t have wine on it. All my uncles, and my father, and my mother, as the children of immigrants, were all born in the United States, but they still spoke Italian. They didn’t teach it to the kids, so I didn’t learn. I was named after my grandfather, Francesco, but they wanted to call me Francis. So we were really new Americans, but the tradition remained. We drink wine at the table. As I said, even the kids, we didn’t drink glasses of wine shoulder to shoulder with our parents, but we were allowed a little wine and we would put 7Up or ginger ale or cream soda in it. Wine was part of that family ritual of dinner for me. As I grew older, I eventually traveled to Europe, and I collaborated on a script. I was a film person by then, and I collaborated on a script in Paris with the great Gore Vidal, and I had this opportunity to meet him. He was a very brilliant person. He knew Europe, and being with him, I had the chance to taste some great wine. I said, “My goodness, this is so delicious.” I mean, the wine we drank— the wine my father and my grandfather drank— that was good, honest wine made by some of the immigrant families, like Gallo. There were plenty of them. They made their own during Prohibition with grapes supplied by the Mondavi family. But this was a different story, having the wines of Bordeaux, Romanée Conti from Burgundy. I tasted wine from Rhône, and I thought, “My God, this is more delicious than Coca-Cola.” Coca-Cola was my standard as a kid. I had great luck and good fortune to taste some great wines. I remember when I had the opportunity to have a little bit of money — because most of my life I was really penniless, and I was a starving student with barely enough to eat — which is why I gained weight, incidentally, because every night I used to have the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dinner, which cost 19 cents when I went to college. So when I made “The Godfather” film, and for the first time I had money, I said to my wife, “Let’s get a little summer house in the Napa Valley. It’s only an hour away, and the kids — I have two boys — we can all have fun at the summer house. But maybe we can have an acre of grapes, and then we can make wine ourselves, and for Christmas, we can give it to all the relatives.” So when I went there, the real estate agent said, “Oh, this isn’t for you, but they’re going to auction a great estate.” I said, “Well, what’s that?” They said it was part of the most beautiful estate of all, which was the Inglenook Estate, which has been all broken up by the corporations that owned it. But the family was auctioning the home. My wife and I went and saw it, and it was just an incomparable beauty — we couldn’t believe it. It was 1,700 acres. We made a bid on it. We didn’t get it. But then I said, “Gee, we should get a bigger place.” But the story is actually that the people who bought it did sell it to us, and we started to live here.
K: Wow, you started living there, and now you’re surrounded by wine.
FFC: Yeah, well, when you live in Napa Valley, all your neighbors and friends all make wine, and they make very good wine. You guys are much more connoisseurs, probably, than I am. I was never one. I went out of my way to not be someone who would sip wine on its own and discuss its various aromatics. I like to drink wine with food. I’m not a savant when it comes to that. I know what I enjoy, and I always like to learn more. Your panel of your associates, I’m sure that they’re much more sophisticated than I. But I will tell them from my perspective what I think about wine, and wine and food, and film, and life. I’m really interested in everything. I think of all the pleasures of life, the greatest one is learning. That’s what I like to do. That’s the key to how I got involved in the wine business — it was an accident.
K: That’s great.
C: Francis, this is Cat. It seems like the one thing that ties all of your passions together, whether it’s filmmaking or winemaking or otherwise, is your family. How important is family legacy to you in your businesses?
FFC: Well, I think I have to go one step further and tell you that in my personal philosophy, the highest level of something to have would be friends. Friendship, I think, is the most valued possible goal. It’s not money, it’s not billions of dollars, it’s not possessions. It’s friends. Family is a subset of friends. It should be, because these are the people who you are the most intimate with, and the most invested in their well-being, although I feel that way about all friends. In fact, all people — because, as you know, the human race, the Homo sapien race that we’re part of, is all one family. You and I are actually related by a grandmother if you go back far enough. We’re all family, and if you think of it that way, friendship is like family. All of us on the phone right now are all part of the same family.
T: Hey, Francis, this is Tim here. I’ve got a question for you. We’ve been talking about your early life and early days, and then moving on to your early life in wine. So you bought a property in Napa in the ’70s. What was that like then? Because we’re talking pre-Judgment of Paris. I imagine it was very different to how it looks now, or is that wrong? What was the landscape there?
FFC: I think Napa Valley, and the vineyards, and the wine business was in the middle of a turning point. There had been the glory days right after Prohibition. Inglenook Wines was under the supervision of their second generation — I never met him, but he was a wonderful man named John Daniel, who was the great-grandnephew of the founder Gustave Niebaum in 1870. At any rate, there was a transition, and people didn’t really know what was going to happen. In fact, the corporations started sniffing around the thing because families didn’t know quite what the next generation was looking at. It was a very damaging time because corporations bought both Heublein, which was in Connecticut, and bought both Inglenook and BV, which were two of the real reasons why Rutherford is such an important region. They dismembered them; they broke them apart and sold them. They made one into a supermarket wine, and made another into their luxury wine. They did a lot of damage. That’s why a kid from Great Neck, Long Island who had just made some money off of “The Godfather,” was even able to buy a property— the real knowledgeable people were very unsure of whether or not something like the property I bought was really a white elephant. It was sort of like what happened to the movie studios after the ’70s, when people bought MGM, or these great, wonderful studios (that in France would have been preserved by the cultural laws) and just broke them apart and sold the property. And Century City was built on the incredible back lot of 20th Century Fox — all the extraordinary props, the famous ruby slippers, everything was just sold and monetized in a way that I guess American industry does. As you know, we have a secretary of culture here. Nothing protected it. For that reason, my wife and I were really strangers to running wineries, and we were able to have that opportunity and the blessing of such a magnificent property. Interestingly, I began to feel very much as though I was the exploiter of this wonderful heritage — it was originally called Niebaum-Coppola, and we were starting to do very good business. People would come and look at my Oscars and the film memorabilia. We had a very popular product that was not really from the grapes here, called Claret. And to this day, Claret is tremendously successful, and a good bargain. It’s an $18 bottle of red wine that never lets you down. So I began to feel embarrassed. I announced at the time that I’m going to take everything out of Niebaum-Coppola — my awards, my name, the Claret, any wine that wasn’t made there because I wanted it to be pure, and I wanted it to be what it really was. I said we’ll find some other winery in Sonoma or somewhere, and we’ll call it Rosso & Bianco, and I’ll move my Oscars there because I really felt embarrassed. I didn’t want the property called Niebaum-Coppola to be a temple for myself. I didn’t even want the other winery to be called Francis Coppola. I wanted to be called Rosso & Bianco, in the name of one of our wines. But I was making a movie at the time, and when I came back, the Niebaum-Coppola Claret had become the Francis Coppola Claret, and the winery in Sonoma was called Francis Coppola Winery. In terms of making money, it might have been a good decision, but it embarrassed me tremendously. I’ve seen my name on so much stuff, and it only embarrasses me. Incidentally, the now Inglenook Winery is absolutely disconnected. They are two separate companies. There’s nothing that connects them other than the fact they’re owned by the same family. There’s nothing that connects them, which I feel is very necessary when you’re making a premium wine. Their business philosophy is different. If you tell me a couple of wineries that we’re making 5,000 cases of a certain wine, and if we add this other component to it, we can have 8,000 cases that’ll be almost as good, you’re likely to say, “OK, do it.” But if at Inglenook, you say, “OK, we have the same thing: 5,000 cases and if we add a little of this to the batch, it’ll be almost as good.” You say no. It’s a different ownership proposition, and that’s why the two companies have to be totally separate.
A: So, Francis, it’s Adam here. I have a question for you about the Claret. It’s actually one of the first wines I ever had. It’s one of the wines that helped me fall in love with wine. In all seriousness, when I was just graduating college (I’d actually been a film major). I knew your movies and then came in contact with your wine. I think it helped a lot of people discover wine. When you created the Claret, did you have the idea then that it would become such an ambassador for wine in general, and for everything else in wine that you would do? Or was it just a wine you were looking to create at the time because as you were saying it was something that the Valley really hadn’t experienced before.
FFC: Well, to tell you the truth, when I was your age, when I was a young guy— and I have become used to drinking wine, especially when I have the opportunity to have certain foods, like a steak, or something that seems to demand it. There was an Australian wine. I don’t remember the name of what it was called. It was a Shiraz. It’s a very famous one, and it was the only wine that you would really see — I made a movie called “The Rain People” driving across the country. We would get great steaks. You couldn’t get wine, but there was this one wine, and when I saw that wine, I knew it would never let you down.
A: Was it Lindemans?
FFC: No, it was ubiquitous. It was everywhere. It was very, very much available. And it was good. And you could trust that if you bought it you were OK. So with Claret, that was my image. I wanted to make a wine that would never let you down, that wasn’t too expensive, and gave you a really enjoyable wine-food experience that you could count on that you wouldn’t have to doubt. I’ll remember that name and I’ll tell you what — I’ll send an email with what it was called, but that was the inspiration. A wine that wouldn’t let you down.
KB: That’s awesome. And speaking of access and accessibility, you guys were the first winery, or at least in modern history, to put wine in a can. Can you tell us a little bit about what led to that decision? And then as a follow-up, I was curious, do you recommend drinking Sofia in the can, or pouring it into a glass first?
FFC: Well, the story there is this, when Sofia was a little girl, like 7 or 8, she was living here on the estate. In fact, she was a very feisty little girl. At one time, I was in the middle of a bankruptcy, and the process servers would come on the property just to try to serve at the property, which they’re not allowed to do because it’s a big estate. They’re not allowed to trespass. And of course, when one would come, my wife and I would hide, but little Sofia would stand on the porch and say, “Stop, you have no right to be here.”
K: That’s awesome!
FFC: “Leave immediately!” She was quite a kid. And I used to tell her when she was 7 that when she was married, we were going to serve a wine that was going to be like Champagne — of course, we can’t make Champagne, but we used to enjoy a blanc de blancs wine in Paris. And so we made this sparkling blanc de blancs wine called Sofia. It was an innovation, I know now there’s a big trend of people towards Prosecco and stuff like that. But back then, no. So Sofia was the early incarnation of a domestic sparkling blanc de blancs. Not Champagne, not at that level, of course, but at that time in the clubs, the kids were starting to drink with a straw, little bottles of Pommery Pop. So we said, “Well, why don’t we make a small container of four for Sofia?” Sofia, herself, and her brother said, “Well, why don’t we put it in those long, tall, Japanese cans?” One of the beauties of my family is that whenever I went anywhere for work, if I was going to be gone for more than two weeks, I took the kids out of school and brought them with me. So as little kids, they got to live in Japan, they got to live in the Philippines, they got to hang out with movie crews. I thought their schooling was more important than the experiences they were having, and I put Sofia in a Chinese school. Their academic thing was a mess, but it was very stimulating, and they knew about Japan and stuff like that. Sofia said, “Call it a mini,” and we put this type of Champagne, not Champagne but blanc de blancs in these little minis and had a straw attached to it.
And the idea was it would be something for kids that were going to clubs. We were copying, remember the Pommery Pop?
A: I do, yeah.
FFC: So we put them in little cans. I wouldn’t drink it out of the straw. I like to drink wine out of a glass, and I like to drink everything out of a glass. I love beverages, and I love the enjoyment of drinking a beverage in a pretty glass, a nice glass — simple but pretty.
K: Speaking of pretty glasses and wine, that reminds me of Pinot Noir, because Pinot Noir smells so good in a nice glass. You have a new venture, and you’re in the Dundee Hills in Willamette. It’s where it all began, so you decided to start something there. That’s really exciting. Do you want to let us know about that?
FFC: I love the Willamette Pinot Noir, I’m an admirer, and I heard there was an opportunity to buy a property right next to the wonderful — and I hope I can pronounce it right — it’s the Domaine Drouhin.
FFC: They’re the family who really started that style of Pinot Noir in a Burgundy fashion in that area. Then it was copied by a few other people. But it’s like Napa Valley, where all your neighbors make wonderful things. But I love the Domain Drouhin, and the wonderful French family. We were able to buy this property. I think forget what it was called now, but I wanted to give it — I’m very interested, I’m passionate about sciences and businesses, and I always loved this young nobleman de Broglie who won the Nobel Prize and was part of the group that were really essential in quantum physics — and the idea that he was a prince. Now you think of a prince as a guy who has a life and he’s got good clothes and girls like him ’cause he’s a prince? And yet here was one who was devoted to science and was passionate, and was a very shy prince. I wanted to honor him as I have honored the great scientist Archimedes, so I called it Domaine de Broglie and it’s in his honor. I also have certain connections. I took some of the props from the movie “Is Paris Burning?” that I put up there. And I made it with things that I’m passionate about, in this case science and quantum physics. It’s a beautiful place, and the wine is wonderful and fragrant. I’m very proud of the Domaine de Broglie, I really am.
K: Yeah, it looks really great. I love the sparkling wine and Pinot Gris, which is very exciting in Oregon. When I was looking at the website , I really can’t wait to taste the wines. Does your family still call you Science. Is that still your nickname?
FFC: No, Science was not said in a nice way. When the kids at Jamaica High School called me Science, they went “SCIENCE, SCIENCE.” It was an insult.
C: Oh my God, no! That’s awful. Jokes on them.
FFC: It was to put me down. And in New York Military Academy, I was very skinny in those days, they used to call me Ichabod.
K: Ichabod Science.
FFC: Those were different schools. I was always taken out of school or put in another school for reasons I don’t even understand. My father was always moving. I went to about 22 schools before college, so I had what I realized was a benefit. No school ever got a hold of me and brainwashed me because I was in and out of school. Once I went to three junior high schools in one year.
K: In one year!?
FFC: Yeah, I went to six high schools. I went to Jamaica High School, University High School, Bayside High School, Great Neck High School, and New York Military Academy.
C: You had a very well-rounded education growing up.
FFC: Well, there is a theory. There’s a great philosopher, educator — for those of you interested he’s named Ivan Illich — who came up with in the ’70s this idea that school was actually a danger to children because it tended to brainwash them into thinking that the kind of society we’re in where you get a better job and you make more money, and you get all the accreditation, and the grading, and the grades — was to brainwash good, obedient little cog in the wheel of our society, and that the best thing would be to abolish school and to institute learning in a totally different way. I’m reading this book and said, my God, I got away with de-schooling because they never had me for more than two months! A school in New York in those days, which was the early ’50s, a school in New York was totally different than a school in L.A. They were very different styles, and one of the most embarrassing moments of my life was when I came into a class late in L.A. and the teacher said, “You’re tardy.” And I said, “I’m not tardy, I’m Coppola!” Because in New York, they never said you’re tardy, they said you’re late. I didn’t know what tardy meant. But the happy thing is, I really think that the fact that I had not gone through regular schooling was that I was, in the words of this philosopher, getting de-schooled, it probably was an advantage to me. And I know my children, Sophia and Roman, my eldest son Gio — they didn’t do well academically, but in life they learned all about a lot of things, about exotic countries and different kinds of people and movies. And they’ve all benefited in a funny way. I think putting your kid in a regimented school with kids of their age going for accreditation and their prescribed curriculum is ultimately damaging. I would recommend a different system of learning. I don’t even want to call it education. We have a secretary of education, and I wish, of course, in addition, that we had a secretary of youth, because education is just about ideology and budgets. It’s not about young people. But our young people are the most valuable people in our whole country, and we never listen to them, we never ask what their aspirations are. I would split the secretary of education, and a second one, the secretary of youth that really brings young people into having a say about the society that’s going to be theirs.
K: Yeah, life experience is everything.
J: This is Joanna, one last question for you: What is next, in terms of expansion. Are there more properties in Oregon or any other regions that you’re interested in?
FFC: Well, a region that I absolutely love and that I think has wonderful wines and is very affordable would be Argentina. Certain countries have a region which is considered the wine region, like Napa Valley. Argentina has a region in Mendoza, which people think is the wine region, but really, that’s just the region where a lot of people settle down. In fact, most of Argentina is a wonderful wine region and all along the mountains there, if you have water, Argentina is a natural vineyard — the whole country, practically. Argentina has made great wine, but they’re not as well known as Chilean wines, which, of course, is on the other side of the mountains. Because the Chileans are basically descended from Germans and they’re very good at business and selling and stuff whereas the Argentine people are more so descendants of the Italians, and so they make the wine, but they drink it. I know when I go to a wine list and I don’t want to go broke, I always look at the Argentine selection because, again, you get wonderful wines for very fair prices. I think the Chilean wine is OK. But to me, the great wine from south of the border is in Argentina. And if I were a younger man or if the opportunity fell on my lap, I would love to have a place there or maybe even with a hotel, a place you can go visit. Who’s the gentleman who has a beautiful place in northern Argentina, what’s his name? He also has a winery here.
K: Well, Tim McKirdy who is on right now, he is our staff writer, but he also was a chef in Argentina for a couple of years.
TM: Yeah, I was out in Buenos Aires for a while in San Telmo. I believe you may be familiar with the neighborhood.
FFC: I love San Telmo. So when you say horse, you say gabacho?
TM: I say gabacho. I like to think of Italians, speaking Spanish.
FFC: Well, that’s exactly what it is! On the list of the top hotels in Argentina, the first one. What’s that great big, beautiful hotel?
T: The Faena? I think it’s the Faena, maybe. I’m not sure.
FFC: Well that’s a more hip hotel. But there’s a classic hotel there that’s wonderful. But our hotel, which is called Jardin Escondido, is No. 5, and it only has about eight rooms. It’s really, really lovely.
K: That’s beautiful. Well, Francis, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. This was an awesome conversation. It was so great, and I’m so glad we got everything to work. Thank you again!
FFC: It was my pleasure. One thing: You know, I’m 81 years old, about to be 82. But, you know, the truth of the matter is— it’s not just “I have a passion for film.” I have a passion for everything. I think a human being is a wonderful entity with kindness. We’re a much kinder and more friendly people than we think. It’s just that we’re all addicted to news now, which scours the world looking for something bad to say. All of you, I know, are younger than me, and I want you to have some of my enthusiasm for living, learning, friendship, and the future, because the future will be beautiful. We’ll share meals with our friends, with wine, and we’ll see beautiful works of art. And your children — it’s important to have that to look forward to. That’s my sincere belief, and of course, my hope, for a blessing for all of us.
C: That was beautiful.
ALL: Thank you so much.
FFC: Bye bye. Nice to meet you.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of “EOD Drinks.” If you’ve enjoyed this program, please leave us a rating or a review wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps other people discover the show. And tell your friends. We want as many people as possible listening to this amazing program.
And now for the credits. “End of Day Drinks” is recorded live in New York City at VinePair’s headquarters. And it is produced, edited, and engineered by VinePair tastings director, yes, he wears a lot of hats, Keith Beavers. I also want to give a special thanks to VinePair’s co-founder, Josh Malin, to the executive editor Joanna Sciarrino, to our senior editor, Cat Wolinski, senior staff writer Tim McKirdy, and our associate editor Katie Brown. And a special shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, VinePair’s art director who designed the sick logo for this program. The music for “End of Day Drinks” was produced, written, and recorded by Darby Cici. I’m VinePair co-founder Adam Teeter, and we’ll see you next week. Thanks a lot.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.