NAPA VALLEY, Calif. (Reuters Life!) - Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola could barely wait to shout "action" and start demolishing an ugly building at his Rubicon Estate, an act he says is essential to expand his luxury wine business.
Coppola, the five-time Oscar winner whose hits range from "The Godfather" to "Apocalypse Now," started his wine business back in the 1970s, but in the 1990s the wineries really took hold and began to eclipse his moviemaking.
In fact Coppola, 68, took a break from directing for nearly eight years, and has only returned this year with a film drama, "Youth Without Youth," financed not by Hollywood but by his burgeoning wine business.
His wineries are growing rapidly, and the director turned vintner has something more pragmatic in mind for the $6 million building he tore down. Coppola is planting new vines for Rubicon wines, which he can sell for more than $100 a bottle.
"Every year you have to do something different to make better and better wine," said Coppola, noting he aims for Rubicon to be known for making "great" wines, rather than very good wines mastered by other Napa Valley vintners.
But making expensive wines was never his intent when he moved to the region. Coppola's family had made wine at home during the U.S. prohibition years, and the idea of reviving the practice on a modest scale promised to be fun, he said.
Then, Coppola's neighbors sought his grapes. "I thought, 'Gee, we ought to make our own wine," Coppola said.
RANGE OF COPPOLA WINES
Since then, he has thrown himself fully into making wine with a lower-priced line, called Francis Ford Coppola Presents, that sells under brand names like Rosso & Bianco, Director's Cut, Diamond Collection, Sofia and FC Reserve.
Those wines use grapes from other vineyards, and bottles can fetch from $10 to $27. All but FC Reserve are available in retail stores across the United States.
By contrast, Rubicon Estate wines range from $40 to $125 a bottle and are made exclusively from organically certified grapes grown on the property's 235 acres in Napa Valley.
Coppola is no Hollywood transplant dabbling in the wine business, say industry insiders. They note he has some of Napa Valley's best talent working for him at Rubicon Estate and a significant presence in neighboring Sonoma County, too.
"He's not just simply somebody who had a lot of money and who jumped into a burgeoning scene," said Dan Berger, publisher of Vintage Experiences newsletter. "He's very passionate about his high-end wines and the fact he makes high-volume wines is part of a business plan."
The plan is paying off, said Frank Walters at MShanken Communications, publisher of the Wine Spectator magazine.
Coppola wines next year will land on Walters' list of best-selling U.S. wines: "They're definitely going to be considered a hot brand."
And some experts are keeping a close eye on the future of Rubicon Estate. "My sense is he is going to fine-tune them even more," said Peter Marks at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, California.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)