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BERGER: Coppola's Wine Country empire

There is no question in the minds of many Americans that Napa Valley is the country's most important wine area. It has the panache (grand wineries), makes the nation's most recognized red wine (cabernet sauvignon), and has for a long time been seen as a tourist mecca.

And those are some of the reasons that film director Francis Ford Coppola acquired the historic Inglenook winery in 1975 on a site some consider the best cabernet land in Napa. It was THE place to be.

And Coppola wasn't done at the site in Rutherford. Next he paid an outrageous sum to add some prestigious, adjacent vineyard acreage to the project, spent even more to restore the property lavishly, and finally spent even more to re-acquire the Inglenook name and re-name the property back to its founding name from 1879.

All this has made a lot of headlines over the years and has made Coppola a hero to many who treasure the valley's history.

With a red wine called Rubicon considered among the great wines of Napa, Coppola is now poised to release a new Inglenook red wine that will, says the winery, pay homage to the winery's founder, Finnish sea captain Gustave Niebaum, and his successor, John Daniel and his family.

Far less publicized is Coppola's dedication to his other winery in Sonoma County, which he acquired in 2006 and began to revitalize as it had never been.

Located near Geyserville in northern Sonoma County, Francis Ford Coppola Winery had been the old, sprawling Souverain winery, an aging project that once, decades ago, had been the home to a cooperative that made a number of fascinating wines, but little that was great.

In recent years, it had been operated by Treasury Wine Estates and winemaker Ed Killian had made some splendid wines. Coppola wanted a property large enough to create a family-oriented project, and Souverain seemed perfect except that it needed much renovation.

"Soon after Francis acquired the property," said winemaker/general manager Corey Beck, "the economy began to get weak, and we weren't sure which parts of the restoration would continue." He said Coppola has amazing taste, and every addition to the project had to be first-class.

As a result, he said, Coppola never wavered in his commitment to making what soon became known as Rosso & Bianco a gorgeous winery.

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