Wine Enthusiast's 2019 Wine Star Award Winners
Twenty years ago, the editors of Wine Enthusiast conceived an annual-award program to honor individuals and companies that have contributed to the success of the wine and spirits industry.
Over the years, the size and scope of our Wine Star Awards have expanded to encompass spirits and to showcase hands-on consumer gatekeepers, such as sommeliers. We recognize how multifaceted and rich the wine culture and its peripheral facets have become, and continually embrace and acknowledge the trailblazers who are impacting what you put in your glass every day.
What does it take to be a Wine Star winner? Among other attributes, energy, courage, groundbreaking vision and business acumen.
Explore the 2019 Wine Star Award Winners by clicking to the next slide.
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Bold moves and strategic risks, beautiful vistas and historic lands, family ties and American dreams: The winemaking career of Francis Ford Coppola reads like one of the famous Hollywood director and screenwriter’s epic films.
Though perhaps best known for blockbusters like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, Coppola could be considered an even more successful vintner. Since the 1970s, he’s built an empire that now produces more than three million cases from 340 acres of vineyards spread across several wineries in California and Oregon and includes brands such as Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection, Sofia and Director’s Cut.
Coppola also restored Inglenook, one of Napa Valley’s most iconic wineries, to top form. He first purchased a slice of the estate in 1975, rescuing the operation from jug wine depravity and ultimately lifting it to the upper echelons of the modern wine market. These efforts culminated with his controversial purchase of the trademark and brand from corporate control in 2011.
“Of all the things I’ve done in my life, there’s nothing that I am more proud of than the fact that this beautiful estate has not only been rejuvenated, but totally restored to the highest level,” says Coppola. “There is no debt on it whatsoever, and the Coppola family is united in being the custodians of one of the greatest wine estates in the world.”
A third-generation Italian-American born in 1939 and raised in a suburb of New York City, Coppola “never saw a dinner table that didn’t have wine on it,” he says. He fondly remembers the tales of his uncles stealing sweet California grapes from his grandfather’s home-winemaking endeavors.
After the success of the first two Godfather films, Coppola lived in San Francisco and wanted a summer cottage in the Napa Valley. Specifically, he sought land with some grapes in hopes of making wine with his family to give away for Christmas.
Instead, Coppola ended up buying the Rutherford mansion of Captain Gustave Niebaum and 100 acres of surrounding vineyard, all part of the original 1879 Inglenook estate. He moved in after the arduous multi-year, self-financed production of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines.
“It was both heaven and hell,” he says. “On one hand, it was this incredibly beautiful place. On the other hand, I was recovering from the Apocalypse experience and greatly indebted to the movie. In those days, interest was over 27%, so it looked hopeless that I was going to be able to survive, much less keep this beautiful property. So I was very frightened.”
When vintners sought to buy grapes to help pay his mortgage, Coppola decided to keep them for himself. His wife asked him what he knew about making wine. In turn, Coppola said, “I also knew nothing about how to make movies, and [we] were in the position where we might be able to do it.”
Introduced to first growth Bordeaux and grand cru Burgundy a decade earlier while at work on a film in Paris, Coppola knew he wanted to pursue that level of excellence in California, but he didn’t know a lot about premium wine. Familiar with Château Lafite Rothschild’s quality, he chose to follow their example by combining the old and new and named his nascent operation Niebaum-Coppola.
“If we made wine as a Bordeaux blend and held them for years before release, why couldn’t Napa Valley achieve that?” he asked. Robert Mondavi was one of the few to agree. “You’re right,” Mondavi told Coppola. “There’s no reason why Napa Valley wines can’t approach and equal, and even surpass, the great wines of the world.”
The inaugural 1978 Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon blend, which he held for seven years before release, quickly became a coveted Napa bottle, as did the ensuing vintages.
Business took off in the 1990s. Coppola acquired more vineyards, which included the original Inglenook plantings and chateau, and launched a number of popular brands. In the 2000s, Francis Ford Coppola Winery opened in Sonoma County at the former home of Chateau Souverain, followed in 2013 by Virginia Dare Winery, on the old Geyser Peak property in Geyserville.
Inspired by watching kids play in the Inglenook fountains over the years, Coppola opened a family friendly pool complex in 2010 at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
“I didn’t realize that I was establishing a new concept within the wine industry, where the goal was not only to have the people visit, but to come and spend all day there,” he says. “Now, it’s what everyone is trying to do.”
For Coppola, it all still comes down to family.
“The greatest joy is when the family can do something together,” he says. “I wanted to make a destination where the whole family goes and the children enjoy themselves. The grandparents enjoy seeing their grandchildren, which is what most grandparents want to do. The parents can learn about wine, and everyone can have lunch together. Every business I do is about keeping the family enjoying themselves together.”
For his vision, passion and incalculable contributions to the wine industry, Wine Enthusiast is proud to honor Francis Ford Coppola as recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award. —Matt Kettmann
For the first time ever, after two decades of celebrations in New York City and South Beach, Miami, Wine Enthusiast’s black-tie Wine Star Awards gala will be held in San Francisco at the legendary Palace of Fine Arts.
Throughout September and October, we’ll be announcing the winners from the different categories, so be sure to check back.
- 1Lifetime Achievement Award: Francis Ford Coppola
- 2Upcoming Wine Star Award Winner Announcements