20 April 2009

Green Winemaking Tour: Coppola

While in Sonoma, I visited all types of wineries, everything from tiny Mom & Pop vineyards to massive operations able to handle tour buses and large groups. One of the larger and more well-known wineries in the area is the subject of today's Green Winemaking report...

Coppola has two winemaking facilities, one in Napa (formerly Niebaum-Coppola, now Rubicon Estate) and the second is in Sonoma. Called Rosso & Bianco, this Geyserville property is a member of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. While Rosso & Bianco is not Certified Organic, the CSWA advances a series of green ethics regarding responsible use of the soil, fair treatment of workers, and engagement with the surrounding community.

The facility was under major renovation during my visit (improvements including a restaurant are underway), so my access was limited. But I did enjoy the bar-style tasting room, where I sat on a stool and looked up at a collection of memorabilia from various Coppola films, including the famous hat worn by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now.

There are lots of bottles available for tasting at the winery, though over the years I've tried and written about many of them. I stuck to the few that were unfamiliar to me, though up on the shelf they did have a bottle of Carmine, the 3 liter wine in a jug that retails for $175. (Sorry, it was not available for sampling.) It's an interesting bottle with a story behind it involving young Francis attempting to carry a jug of wine with a pencil threaded through the finger loop. The pencil snapped and the wine crashed to the floor, and young Francis went without cannoli that night. The wine is sold with a pencil tied to the loop. In a creative nod to sustainability, there are refill events during which you can have the Carmine bottle refilled with this special edition red blend.

I wanted to highlight an interesting Coppola selection that's just recently hit the market. The 2007 Coppola Alicante Bouschet is made in Lodi, California. $19, a delightful 13.5% abv. Pure Alicante Bouschet, a French hybrid of Grenache and Petit Bouschet (the latter a cross between Teinturier du Cher and Aramon). There's a lot of this grown in Europe and the US, but you rarely see it in a single grape wine.

As a fellow blogger and Captain of the Dirty South Mothership has said about certain bottles, this wine brings the funk! It doesn't smell bad, but it's got a prominent aroma to it, and the tasting notes from around the web are all over the place. Here's what I got: snapping a green sasasfras stick, steamed artichoke and asparagus. Once it breathes, berry aromas tend to dominate, but those enchanting vegetal characteristics are still present. The flavor is oddly light, with cherry tones and a very short finish. Don't get me wrong, I'm in love with this wine for its alluring nose. I could smell this wine for days, and I did--the last glassful stuck around for almost a week. It's just such a pleasure to try a wine that's not simply cherry or vanilla.

Wines Sampled at the Vineyard:

2007 Francis Coppola Reserve Viognier, Russian River Valley. Peach and pear aromas, floral. Grassy, herbal notes, with a slightly firm aftertaste.

2007 Francis Coppola Reserve Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. Strawberry dominates, with a smooth, light, and refreshing flavor profile.

2006 Director's Cut Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley. Vegetal, with a touch of bell pepper on top of the black cherry. Bordeaux inspired but with California fruit-forward characteristics.

2006 Francis Coppola Reserve Syrah, Dry Creek Valley. 96% Syrah with a 4% splash of Viognier, a classic combination. Blackberry and pepper aromas with just a touch of lilacs. Firm tannins but a smooth finish. My favorite of the tasting, and highly recommended.


fredric koeppel said...

one mourns the disappearance from California of unusual and eccentric grapes like alicante bouschet and charbono. The old Papagni winery used to make a 100 percent alicante bouschet that was like drinking the La Brea Tarpits, but in a good way. the grape shows up in field blends in 100-year-old vineyards in Sonoma. I think Ridge still uses a small percentage in some of its zinfandels.

Benito said...


I had a few wines in Sonoma that included a dash of Alicante Bouschet (and Ridge was one), but in all of my prior tasting this was the first pure bottle. You're right, it does have an unusual, distinct personality that might not sit well with those that love a hundred identical Merlots.

But you know me, I love the weird little unpopular grapes like Pinotage that make life interesting.

Samantha Dugan said...

Pinotage? Really? I get "funky" but Pinotage is, in the words of George Michael, "Just Too Funky For Me". In all my years at the shop I have never been tasted on a 100% Alicante Bouschet...now I'm gonna have to find one.

thomas said...

I've been to the winery in Napa and it was one of the neatest tours I've ever been on. Francis has such an amazing vintage cinema art collection. The wines were great too! Hey, thanks for visiting my blog and commenting too! I often frequet your blog as well but just need to get more active on my commenting. Cheer Ben!

Benito said...


Oh, I love Pinotage. I've had it straight, in Bordeaux-style blends, and even as an ingredient in rosé. It's this great combination of wild and ashy that's very compelling.

I've really only encountered two grapes that were so terrible, I would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to try them again. Fortunately neither pops up very often:

1) Baco Noir, a French-American hybrid. I've heard they do great things with it up in Canada, but in the Southeast? Not so much.

2) Fetească Regală, a native Romanian grape that was just a miserable experience for me all around.

Benito said...


Hey, thanks for reading, feel free to drop an e-mail if you ever want to chat blogger a blogger. I've really enjoyed Coppola wines over the years and have found them to be reliable choices as gifts and selections at restaurants.

One of these days I'll get out there and see Napa properly...

Michael Hughes said...


I'm with you. To me, pinotage usually smells like basketballs, band aids & dirty jocks, & tastes the way gym socks smell. Ick. I have had one good one at J, yes that J in Russian River Valley. Theirs was delicious. Its nice to see that even Coppola is subscribing to responsible farming. Your trip sounds like outrageous fun Ben.

Rita said...

One of my favorite wineries in Sonoma or Napa counties! The Directors Cut series just hits my palate just right and I don't think you can go wrong with any of the wines in that series.