RUTHERFORD, Calif.—The Godfather is moving.
Or, at least, his desk is.
Also on the move: Gary Oldman’s armor from “Dracula,” Robert Duvall’s surfboard from “Apocalypse Now” and Jeff Bridges’ dream car from “Tucker.”
The entire Centennial Museum, which sits on the second floor of Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon winery, will get new digs in nearby Geyserville next year.
In wine country, it’s an attempt to move emphasis from his cinematic achievements (including his five Oscars behind glass) to his passion for winemaking.
Coppola, 67, even changed the property’s name in March from Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery to Rubicon Estate, after its flagship label.
“Seventy percent of the people who came here ... they didn’t even care to taste the wine. They didn’t really know what it was about except that Francis owned it and they wanted to see the Oscars,” says Larry Stone, Rubicon’s general manager.
But for the moment, it’s all here—Coppola’s movie props and the vineyard history exhibits—which makes Rubicon a place of transition where movie and wine lovers meet, if only for a little while longer.
Coppola himself, the real godfather, isn’t here. He’s in Romania, finishing “Youth Without Youth,” his first film since 1997’s “The Rainmaker.”
But it’s easy to understand Coppola’s attempt to separate dueling legacies. The winery gets 300,000 visitors annually, but produces produced fewer than 240,000 bottles of wine, says Stone, a former general manager for Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago.
Even Coppola, who still lives near the main chateau, had a difficult time finding elbowroom.
“I had trouble getting past the door,” Coppola said in 2001. “All these people stopped me and wanted to talk to me about my films. I was glad I had a couple of bottles of my wine so I could show them I do other things.”
Even so, the property has been an inextricable part of Coppola’s film legacy since 1975, when he and his wife, Eleanor, bought the original estate behind Rubicon.
In fact, he mortgaged the winery, and nearly all he had, to make 1979’s risky, disaster-prone “Apocalypse Now.” He gambled and won, both artistically and financially.
The high didn’t last long.
Starting in 1982, after the box-office failure “One From the Heart,” Coppola wound through a series of court battles and bankruptcies. Through it all, however, the winery property remained a place of stability as the Coppola family compound.
“The last thing I’d ever let go was the estate,” Coppola said in 2001. “It was not just a winery, it had become my home, a rare, historic home at that.”
And so, though he lost his original American Zoetrope studio in Los Angeles to a foreclosure sale, Coppola kept the winery.
“The big joke around Hollywood was that he lost his shirt making movies, now he was going to lose his pants making wine,” says Loyola University’s Gene D. Phillips, author of “Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola.”
But, surprising Hollywood skeptics, Coppola succeeded as a vintner and expanded the property in 1995, restoring Gustave Niebaum’s winemaking legacy and reuniting the former Inglenook estate.
Last year, he bought Chateau Souverain in Geyserville, and is reshaping the property into a more casual, family-friendly wine and dining experience.
“The acquisition gives him the chance to be creative again. He likes having big dreams and he sets an ambitious agenda,” says James Lauber, senior editor and columnist for Wine Spectator.
But movie sensibilities still reign at Rubicon, or at least, a sense of theatrics. Each visitor is met by a parking valet, and is greeted by a uniformed host and led up a red carpet to the first tasting.
All of this, Phillips says, speaks to Coppola’s sense of legacy.
“It’s certainly not a hobby; it’s important to him,” Phillips says. “Now he’s looking to the legacy that he wants to pass on. The wine business doesn’t need the patronage of his name anymore.”
In other words, Coppola has positioned the wines to stand alone, without his celebrity. The family name will still receive top billing on the Diamond Collection and Francis Ford Coppola Presents brands, just not Rubicon wines.
So, the gift shop no longer carries $20 “Apocalypse Now” T-shirts or any movie souvenirs at all. Instead, $40 wines, $140 photo albums and $400 vases are the norm.
“Before, with no guest fee, we would have three times the amount of traffic we have,” Stone says. “One-hundred percent of the people coming here now are interested in the winery as a winery, not as a movie star’s place or as a place of movie memorabilia from movies they love.”
Stone says the Centennial Museum, including Don Corleone’s desk, will find a new, as yet unnamed, home in Geyserville sometime in early 2007. But the cleaving of the movie and the estate wine properties isn’t the real story. Rubicon isn’t in transition now, he says.
“It was in transition between 1995 and 2006, when Francis was reuniting the entire Inglenook estate,” Stone says. “So, we’ve returned home.”
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