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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Francis Ford Coppola Winery - The Wonderland of Wineries




Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Francis Ford Coppola Winery re-opened in the heart of Alexander Valley in July 2010 - the latest venture from Francis Ford Coppola, whose passion for wine, food and entertainment is nowhere more evident than in this new production. Francis puts it best, saying the winery is meant to be "a park of pleasure where people of all ages can enjoy all the best things in life – food, wine, music, dancing, games, swimming and performances of all types. A place to celebrate the love of life." Among the many attractions at the property, Francis Ford Coppola Winery features swimming pools, a movie gallery, a performing arts pavilion, a park area with game tables and bocce courts two restaurants and two tasting bars and soon will have extensive event space for rent.


As many San Francisco city dwellers would attest, the best way to combat chilly SF summers is to head north to wine country. Despite the hundreds of great wineries to visit, there is still a clear shortage of pools available to the general public. Francis Ford Coppola Winery offers the perfect solution for folks looking to enjoy a day in the sun, a wine tasting experience and delicious wine country fare all in one location! - and it’s great for families who want to experience a winery and bring the kids along. Francis Coppola’s vision was to create a place for families to come and enjoy all the best things in life together, and when designing the winery he remembered watching a scene many times at the original winery, Rubicon Estate: children were always playing around the fountain at Rubicon Estate, begging parents to allow them to jump in. Francis always sympathized with the children, so he thought, Gee, the kids want to go swimming, so let's have swimming pools.

And it’s clearly not just the kids who think building a pool at a winery is a great idea - I tried to book a cabine at the pool all summer and I was not able to reserve one until the last weekend in October! There are 28 of these Cabines (European-style personal changing rooms pronounced “ka–beens”) available to rent for the entire day. Day passes are available as well, but don’t guarantee a lounge chair at the pool and also are limited and based on pool capacity. Each cabine comes with a key and offers a comfortable, secure space to change clothes and store personal items while enjoying time at the pool. They’re also equipped with a private shower and towels so you can get cleaned up and enjoy a tasting and dinner.


Garrett and I were lucky to snag the last available cabine on the last weekend of the season - Halloween - and were afforded the opportunity to also enjoy the carnival, parade and festivities taking place at the estate that day. With a live band, a pool festively decorated with floating pumpkins and children parading around the grounds in costumes, the Winery was lively, entertaining and bustling with energy. We enjoyed lunch from the pool bar before heading in for a tasting. The winery’s interior is beautifully appointed despite conjuring up Disneyland with different highly produced vignettes dedicated to Coppola’s movies. Nicely executed, this movie focus lends character to the winery (I personally walked away with a Godfather book and admittedly snapped a shot or two at the original Godfather desk). I’ve always thought the Coppola’s were a family of marketing genius and this really shines through at this venue which ties together all their ventures in a warm open environment.


There are more than forty wines produced on-site in the state-of-the-art winemaking facility, and the winery offers a variety of tasting options, all reasonably priced. The restaurant, Rustic, has a sleek, wine country chic interior as well as patio seating overlooking the vineyards. The restaurant features some of Francis Ford Coppola’s personal favorite recipes from his travels around the world. The menu is international but offers traditional Italian dishes as well using fresh ingredients from the property’s organic gardens. A focal point of the dining room at Rustic is the parilla, an authentic Argentine grill, manned by the restaurant’s dedicated grill-master. It provides the true South American experience of delicious, wood-grilled meats as well as producing authentic, wood fired Neapolitan-style pizzas. A bar adjacent to the restaurant also serves a full complement of cocktails, wine and beer.


My advice: reserve a cabine as far in advance as possible, come early, enjoy the sun at the pool, taste the wines (drink me!), and if you don’t want to leave Wonderland, stay and enjoy dinner. You may not want to leave the rabbit hole. Tasting notes of my favorite red wines below:


Francis Coppola Reserve Nicolas’ Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - 2008
Refined and elegant, this is a big Cabernet displaying characteristics of ripe, dark fruit, cocoa and toasted oak with a long nuanced finish. It’s high concentration is marked by intense aromatics of cherry, cocoa, and mint and richly textured with medium-firm tannins. Palate of plum, berries, and currants and secondary espresso and spicy oak.

Director’s Cut Zinfandel - Dry Creek Valley - 2009
This has always been a favorite of mine - deep jammy flavor with a rich layers of blueberries, raspberries, dark chocolate and mint, along with a lingering vanilla caramel finish. The bottle is cleverly designed to look like a film reel.
 

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