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Coppola’s Revamped Sonoma Winery In High Gear, Prepares Launch Of New Blend, Eleanor

May 23, 2012

Francis Coppola Winery, the Sonoma operation formed through the famed director and vintner’s acquisition of the former Souverain winery in 2006, is coming off its first full year of operation after a comprehensive remodeling, reportedly costing $30 million. Coppola does not disclose volume numbers, but the Sonoma property’s current permits are for 10,000 tons of grapes (around 600,000 cases) and a 2-million-case bottling line. “We don’t exercise all of that, but we are growing,” says general manager and director of winemaking Corey Beck.

The remodeling, which began in 2008, turned Coppola’s Alexander Valley site into a tourist destination, replete with a restaurant, swimming pool, a museum housing movie memorabilia and other amenities. The facility welcomed 200,000 visitors last year.

The winery is now releasing a new upscale red blend named for Coppola’s wife, Eleanor. Set to launch at the end of this month at $48 a bottle, the 2009 Eleanor blend is composed of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon sourced both from Coppola’s vineyards in Sonoma and its Inglenook property in Napa. Eleanor Coppola’s own artwork graces the new entry’s label.

“I think Eleanor can fit into the red blend trend we’ve been seeing—at the higher end, of course,” says Beck. “We’ll play around with the blend according to what a given vintage lends us. 2010 might have some Zinfandel, and there’s also Petite Sirah planted at Inglenook, so we have some flexibility.” Beck adds that a white counterpart under the Eleanor brand may follow. Production will stay small, at around 1,000 cases.

Coppola’s Sonoma operation now turns out eight different labels and over 40 wines, including the Diamond Collection ($18-$20), Director’s Cut ($21-$32) and Sofia ($19) lines. The group opted not to lower prices over the last few years as some competitors did, which slowed volume growth relative to those who did drop price, Beck admits. Moving forward, though, he expects the tightening California grape supply to force competing brands back up to Coppola’s price level. “Ninety-nine percent of the grapes in California right now are under contract,” he says, “and that’s driving up prices.”

Beck points to the example of Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which have typically been priced around $1,400 a ton in recent years but are now at about $2,500 a ton. “I say to the growers, show me a Lake County Cabernet that’s $26 on the shelf,” he says. “At some point grape prices will need to realign with what wineries can charge at wholesale.”

The wider emergence of retailers with private label wines across the U.S. has added a new wrinkle to the equation. “Retailers now have the flexibility to tell suppliers that if they raise prices, the retailers have their own private labels and supply chain. That’s made wineries reluctant to increase prices even as grape costs spike. But it’s inevitable, and we’re slowly starting to see it.”


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