Coppola unveils ‘wine wonderland’

Large heated pool part of appeal to families; pushing label designThe renovated winery in picturesSee photos highlighting the changes to the winery.

GEYSERVILLE -- Work crews last week were putting the finishing touches on Francis Ford Coppola’s "wine wonderland" makeover of the former Chateau Souverain winery in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley.

Just after Francis and Eleanor Coppola acquired the property in March 2006, he said he wanted to create a family-friendly wine resort in Sonoma County to complement the exclusive orientation of the Rubicon property he has reposition in Rutherford in Napa Valley.

That vision partly came to fruition with the reopening in July of the tasting room in the Geyserville chateau along with a new restaurant, called Rustic; a cocktail bar; mini museum of Coppola movie memorabilia, including the car from "Tucker;" and the iconic desk from "The Godfather."

The kid-friendly liquid refreshment came Oct. 22 with the opening of 3,500 square feet of heated pools. A number of wineries have picnic grounds, but a pool is a rather unique amenity.

The poolside patio includes an outdoor cafe, theatrical stage and amphitheater, cabines for private showering and changing, bocce courts and children's library. The cabines rent for $25 a day, giving access to the pool.

"On a Saturday recently, the pool was full of kids because even though the temperature was in the 70s, the pool is heated," said James Luchini, events and performing arts manager. It is set to remain open through November.

Work behind the scenes at the chateau, now called Francis Ford Coppola Winery, has been evolving in the past four years.

The production side of the winery also has been transformed since the Coppolas acquired the property. Ninety percent of the Souverain employees were kept on after the Souverain brand relocated to Treasury Wine Estates' Asti winery, but they had to learn Mr. Coppola's approach to wine production.

The number of wines made at the Geyserville winery has expanded from 12 to nearly four dozen. And about one-third of winery capacity is devoted to about 20 custom winemaking clients of various scales.

Mr. Coppola's innovative approach to cinema has been applied to winery operations and brand packaging, according to Mr. Luchini.

“We’re a very technology-oriented company,”he said.

The facility had one bottling line in 2006 to produce a half-million cases of the Souverain brand annually. The line handles traditional rectangular-shaped labels well, but Mr. Coppola continually wants to push the limits of packaging design, according to Mr. Luchini.

“I remember a time Francis asked someone to produce something, and one guy told him, ‘The machine can’t do that,’” Mr. Luchini said. “To which Francis said, ‘The machine really told you that? It talked to you?’”

Working with local designers and label producers such as Paragon Label of Petaluma, the Coppola team came up with a spiral-applied label for the Director’s Cut line. The label has won packaging industry awards.

Also, the Diamond Collection Pavillion and Claret labels are packaged in gold-colored netting started with the Gran Reserva wines from Spain’s Rioja region around the turn of the 20th century.

Then there’s the newly released 2006 Archimedes $50 flagship line, which has a label that nearly wraps all the way around the bottle.

Those labeling and packaging requirements called for a second production line, which was installed two years ago. It’s slower than the first line, but it has more capabilities, according to Mr. Luchini.

The interior wine “tank orchard” remains from Souverain, but control systems have been significantly upgraded to allow remote monitoring and adjustment of temperature and other conditions in each tank at once.

The production crew has had to adopt to different barrel room management too, including rotation of barrels to accommodate stirring of certain chardonnay lees every day.

The winery laboratory, located on two floors to monitor winemaking and bottling, has testing equipment in-house for the range of tests, except for those required under ISO for export to Europe.

The tank and barrel rooms are no longer on the public tour route because of changes in Americans With Disabilities Act requirements involving handrail specifications and stairs.

For more information, call 707-857-1400 or visit

Winery renovation team

Architect: Taylor Lombardo Architects, Napa

Builder: Grassi Construction, Napa

Site and project manager: Mike Brown

Engineering: Summit Engineering, Santa Rosa

Site work: Geo Dynamics, Santa Rosa

The renovated winery in pictures

photos by Jeff Quackenbush | back to the top

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