When a multi-Oscar celebrity with hefty wine credentials steps into a foreign vineyard, an electric shiver runs through the neighborhood: is he looking to buy? When his director of winemaking shows up to kick a bit of dirt, rumors have the ink drying on the winery deed.
When the local press quotes unnamed wine and government sources saying “the intention would be to acquire small parcels in different zones, the aim for the production of Malbec and Cabernet,” the sizzle Googles global.
Yet, film and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola was looking for wine and visual flavor, not looking to buy, when he visited the Valle de Uco in Argentina’s famed Mendoza wine region, his spokeswoman confirmed. “From the horse’s mouth, the answer is ‘no’… He hasn’t bought a winery (in Argentina) and has no intention to,” said Kathleen Talbert in New York.
But it is a rumor that won’t die.
It didn’t help that the film giant has been tucking in and out of Buenos Aires. Nor that he will be directing his own screenplay for a vaguely autobiographical movie, Tetro, in Buenos Aires later this year (to be scored by Argentine Osvaldo Golijov). Nor that he bought a house in February in the soulful and historic Palermo Viejo neighborhood of South American’s most European city.
Nor did rumors downshift when Coppola’s double-Oscar-winning Argentine friend, Gustavo Santaolalla, bought a wine property in Valle de Uco in 2006.
Meanwhile, after 30 years in Napa Valley, in 2006, Coppola bought the Chateau Souverin winery in Sonoma’s Geyserville and split up his Niebaum-Coppola estate into Rubicon, the winery, and FFC Presents, the negociant. His director of winemaking, Corey Beck, was in Mendoza after the 2006 harvest in California.
Yet, despite press reports, expat blogs, sources and speculation, Coppola is not expanding his wine empire to the Southern Hemisphere, Talbert says. “I keep telling people, No, this isn’t true, and nobody seems to believe me,” adding she had been flooded with calls from Argentine journalists.
The Argentine government is pinning high hopes on international wine investments (Mendoza is one of the world’s hottest vineyard property regions).
The high altitude Valle de Uco, tearfully beautiful in the shadow of the Andes, has a growing reputation for high quality wines by high profile winemakers and high stakes international investors.
David English, an American in Mendoza who counsels larger-scale investors ($500,000+), said land prices are going up 20-30% a year, with water rights (its semi arid) a big issue. Top vineyard sites are in the 3,500 to 4,700-foot altitude and are becoming few and far between. But if Coppola is dealing, English said it’s not with his firm: “English and Associates are not currently advising Coppola,” he said. The American Embassy in Buenos Aires had read the rumors but had no confirmation.
The rush south started in 2002 after the link between the U.S. dollar and the peso at one-to-one parity was severed. Since then the peso has fluctuated to as high as four pesos to a dollar; it now floats around three pesos to the dollar. Still, the buying power is strong: land, goods and labor cost less.
So while the official word is that Coppola is not looking for the best land to grow the best grapes to make the best wine Argentina could imagine, don’t cry, Argentina. Risk and imagination are Coppola trademarks. And, Talbert said, he likes Malbec.
Steve Heimoff contributed to this report.