The world's celebrity-owned vineyards
In search of wine with star quality, Nick Wise set out to explore wineries worthy of an Oscar. This extract from his new book reveals three with cinematic connections
Wednesday 05 June 2013
Dan Akyroyd diamond estates, Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of the strangest vinous areas on earth. Flat as a tabletop, the region is distinctively rural. It seemed like a picture-perfect place to live and raise a family. And yet, it did not seem like a place that would entice a celebrity.
Dan Aykroyd's wines are well made and aim for typicity of region and terroir. Aykroyd first developed an interest in wine while working on Saturday Night Live, when Blues Band guitarist Steve Cropper introduced him to Premier Cru Bordeaux.
He developed a taste in particular for the lush, fruity wines produced in Northern California and after recognising the potential for high-quality grape production in his native Canada (at that time in its infancy), Aykroyd decided to enter the wine world.
In 2006 Aykroyd took the plunge and invested a substantial amount of money into a partnership with Diamond Estates in the Niagara Peninsula, an area now famous for making world-class pinot noir and sweet icewine.
On a picture-perfect August afternoon, we went looking for Diamond Estates. We thought we were looking for a quaint, whitewashed barn or perhaps a more modern building, but it felt like we criss-crossed the peninsula twice over before pulling into what looked like a converted trailer with aluminium siding.
The building behind the trailer looked more like a factory than a winery. Inside, the place was crowded with tourists as the tour buses kept pulling into the parking lot.
A few years from now, Diamond Estates will open a state-of-the-art retail/hospitality building on this site.
Diamond Estates – The Winery, 1067 Niagara Stone Road, Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada (001 905 685 5673; danaykroydwines.com).
Francis ford coppola Inglenook, California
Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most famous celebrities-turned-vintner in California, if not the world. "Winemaking and filmmaking are two great art forms that are very important in the development of California," he says. "They both start with raw ingredients – in the case of wine, the land and the grapes, and in the case of film, the script and the actors' performances. The winemaker takes these raw materials, ferments, blends and creates. He says yes to one batch, no to another. The director does the same thing."
Coppola makes films in Hollywood, but his wine is made in the heart of Napa. The day we set out to find his vineyard, it was early spring and raining so hard that water streamed down the road in lapping waves. Totally blinded by the downpour and aquaplaning around corners, we cautiously pulled over to the side of the road. Just within sight was Coppola's famous Rubicon Estate, known until 2006 as the Niebaum-Coppola Estate and before that as Inglenook.
In the summer of 2011, it was once again named "Inglenook". Encircled by perfectly manicured vineyards, the almost Disneyesque architecture boasts towers, pergolas and an over-the-top Roman fountain that was sprouting water despite the downpour. It was hard to believe this eccentric-looking building once belonged to Gustave Nybom (later Niebaum), the rugged pioneer of Californian winemaking.
Dodging the torrents of water that formed puddles in the parking lot, we dashed through the enormous, castle-like wooden doors that serve as the visitor entrance. The décor was bewildering. The ornate, dark and cavernous place resembled The Munsters' house gone terribly wrong. The queasy combination of plush, blood-red carpeting, crimson wallpaper and highly polished wood felt like a weird 1970s concept of gaudy grandeur. Creepy film-set-like examples of the estate's historical winemaking equipment are dusty and cordoned off, while a grand staircase leads to the upstairs museum.
Besides the massive gift shop selling everything Coppola, from books and films to clothing and cigars, there are two tasting rooms. One offers the basic cuvées from the main wine portfolio, while from behind imposing wrought iron gates, the more exclusive room offers pours of Estate Reserve wines. Coppola has art-directed this tourist haven into an awkward combination of film set, museum and winery.
Yet hiding behind this over-the-top pomp and grandeur lies one of Napa's most famous jewels – the Rubicon. Many years ago, this was one of the high-quality cuvées that first sold me on Californian wines.
Coppola remains a popular – and ambitious –figure in Northern California wine country. His wines are successful and widely distributed throughout the world. In fact, in the last few years Coppola has had to ramp up production to meet demand. His vast portfolio has grown even larger with new wines from Sonoma County. At the beginning of 2006, the director purchased Château Souverain in Sonoma's Alexander Valley.
By the early 1970s, Coppola had reached the pinnacle of success with his first Godfather film and finally had the financial resources to buy property in Northern California's wine country. But it was not until 1975 that he was able to purchase the former home and adjacent vineyard of Gustave Niebaum.
The Coppolas planned to grow a couple of acres of vines to produce a small number of bottles, using the ancient foot-crushing method of Coppola's grandfather, a family tradition still celebrated at the estate's big annual harvest party. At present, Inglenook has 2,000 acres of certified organic vines and now concentrates exclusively on the estate-grown wines that consist of the Cask Cabernet, Blancaneaux, Edizione Pennino, RC Reserve and of course the Rubicon.
While Inglenook remains a serious player in the production of quality cabernet, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma is run as a place for fun and family games; it features a family pool, cabins for rent and a movie gallery.
"I'm a movie director so I need a theme," Coppola said. "I have one philosophy about business: I've always wanted to give the public value. The theme for the Sonoma property is life. I want to create a happy Italian feeling!"
Inglenook, 1991 St Helena Highway, Rutherford, California, US (001 707 968 1161; inglenook.com).
Antonio banderas Anta Banderas, Burgos, Spain
For years, Antonio Banderas had wanted to own a winery and had even tried to purchase an established Napa winery, but without success. Immediately upon visiting Anta, however, he saw great potential in the wines being produced and loved the rugged landscape of his homeland.
Looking across the flat, barren, ochre-coloured landscape, it was hard to fathom winemaking in such a remote area. This was like the moon – but with donkeys. Then I began to realise that the super bright sun was perfect for growing grapes, the scrubby ground ideal for the roots to dig down for nutrients and finally the encompassing wind, strong and cold like the French Mistral was effective in blowing away any moisture that might lead to unwanted rot.
Constructed from glass and wooden beams, the Anta Banderas winery is a blinding blur of reflective light. Shimmering in its rugged rural setting, Anta's contemporary angles and lines provides an odd and striking melding of the medieval and the modern. Quite honestly, the building took my breath away.
Anta Banderas, Villalba de Duero, Burgos, Spain (00 34 947 561 271; antabodegas.com)
This is an edited extract from 'Celebrity Vineyards: From Napa to Tuscany in Search of Great Wine' by Nick Wise, published by Omnibus, £19.95 – also available as an eBook
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