First Words — 10 December 2011

Fine new wines from a winemaker of note in another,unrelated field.

By Mark Gauert

I raise a glass of cabernet sauvignon, and try not to think of the man who made it.

I can’t.

I try to stay focused on the light playing through the deep ruby-colored liquid. I swirl the glass and smell cherries, blackberries, licorice, spice. I re-read the production notes, indicating the wine was stored in “lightly toasted French (70 percent) and American (30 percent) oak barrels.”

It’s still not working. My mind keeps wandering off…

I’m looking past the wine glass now into a green tangle of palm trees somewhere in Vietnam, swaying in the rotor wash of Army air cavalry helicopters. The scene fades, and I’m waiting my turn outside the shuttered office of the Godfather, nervously reviewing what I’m about to say. “Don Corleone,” I practice, “I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your home on the wedding day of your daughter…” The scene fades, and I’m in a van by Union Square in San Francisco. I can just make out the pieces of a conversation out on the square, eavesdropped through my headphones…

“So,” I hear one of the voices say, “what do you think?’’

“Oh,” I say, snapping back to the wine glass in front of me, looking over at winemaker Corey Beck sitting beside me at The Viceroy hotel in Miami.

“I think,” I say, raising the glass to my lips, “That I could use a drink.’’

Beck smiles. “À votre santé.’’

I take a sip, and, instantly – like a bomb exploding that green tangle of palms ­ – I forget the wine was made by Francis Ford Coppola, celebrated director of Apocalypse NowThe GodfatherThe Conversation. All three of my favorite movies, all three with unforgettable scenes that keep running through my mind.

“Wow,’’ I say, now tasting the cherries, blackberries, licorice and spice. “That’s one fine wine.’’

Beck smiles again. He is the man Coppola cast as his director of winemaking 12 years ago, and he clearly knows his craft.

“The 2007 cabernet vintage from California is very good,’’ says Beck, who grew up in the vineyards of Sonoma and Napa. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m the winemaker. The 2008 is just a good vintage.’’

Beck has flown in to debut the Francis Ford Coppola Director’s series – a 2008 chardonnay and pinot noir and 2007 merlot and cabernet – from Sonoma. They are all delightful, pairing well with dishes as diverse as raw fish (chardonnay), grilled quail or ricotta ravioli (pinot) and a grilled flatiron steak (cabernet) served up from the Eos kitchen at The Viceroy.

Florida is the third largest market for the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, just behind California and New York, Beck says. They are generally good to excellent, reasonably priced wines – ranging from Sofia, a sparkling blanc de blanc SoBe club favorite (which you sip through a straw from a can); to the formidable Rubicon, at $145, which some critics rate one of the best reds made in California.

What started as a winemaking lark for Coppola on the vineyards of his Napa Valley summer home has turned into an empire, which now – some 34 years later – includes the winery, food products, even lodging.

“It’s gone from the film industry supporting the wine business to the wine business supporting the films,’’ Beck says of his boss, who turned 70 in April. The success of the winery has allowed him to finance films he wants to make – including his latest, Tetro, filmed on location in Argentina.

“He was down there drinking a local wine – I can’t remember the name – one day,’’ Beck says, “And he calls me and asks, ‘why can’t we make a malbec like this?’ ”

Accepting this as his own mission up the Nung River, so to speak, Beck managed to grow the celebrated Argentine varietal in California soil – resulting in the Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Celestial Blue Label Malbec.

A California wine inspired by the malbecs of Argentina created a stir in the winemaking world, although perhaps not as much as his Argentine-inspired Tetro – his first original screenplay since The Conversation in 1974 – which opened in June.

“Coppola returns to form with his richest, most enrapturing film since Apocalypse Now,’’ wrote Aaron Hillis, of The Village Voice. “The black-and-white cinematography alone is as intoxicating as a bottle of the director’s finest red.”

But I’m trying not to think about the movies now. No lines of dialog. No indelible images from the big screen.

I raise another glass of the cabernet sauvignon, and try not to think of the man who made it.

And, this time, it works. All I can think about is his wine.

 

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