The Genteel
April 21, 2021


Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. Source:

"A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man," declared Mafia chief Don Vito Corleone in the 1972 film, The Godfather. Set in the Newyorkese Little Italy district during the '40s and '50s, the Oscar winning trilogy, inspired by Mario Puzo's novel and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, captured the essence of the Italian stereotype surrounding the importance of family.

If in post-WWII southern Italy, the concept of a patriarchal family meant, above all, union under male leadership, Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his son Michael (Al Pacino) perfectly played the role of strict family bosses, wearing austere pinstriped suits, bowties and red roses. Coppola's creativity went well beyond appearances when he screened the typical gesture of "kissing hands" as being synonymous with respecting and honouring the boss of the family (the so-called "Godfather").

Coppola wines, with labels designed by
Dean Tavoularis. Source:

For a long time now, the Corleone family has been the image the public has had of southern Italian reality during the 1950's, when a few immigrants went to America and became wealthy by joining criminal organisations.

On one side, Coppola showed the Corleone family as a crazy bunch of criminals with funny, Sicilian-American accents, defending their illegal "family" gambling business at any cost, blowing their enemies' brains out or gunning down a police chief because he slapped them in the face. After all, a violent Mafia boss is no different to any other powerful man who's responsible for other people, like a senator or a president.

But it's also true that the characters Coppola created and directed emphasised their strong Italian roots, dropping their guns to indulge in some cannoli or, for example, calling a cease-fire for the wedding of the Godfather's daughter. In the end, according to Italian values, nothing is more important than the tradition of family - and food.

The idea Coppola has of Italy is always connected somehow to the memories of his family, including the Italian costumes and traditions that they brought to America. Italy means loud and joyful people, wine at the table and the game of "bocce"...

Just like Corleone, Coppola never denied his Italian-American heritage. His grandparents were Italian immigrants from the Basilicata region in southern Italy. He always remembered his family's winemaking tradition. His grandfather, Agostino Coppola, used to build rudimental vats to make wine in the basement of his New York house, with grapes imported from California.

Thanks to the proceeds from The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola bought a cottage in Napa Valley in 1975, along with the vineyard of Finnish sea captain, Gustave Niebaum in Rutherford, California and the whole area on the Inglenook Estate, which was restored in 1995, producing his own wine to sell to the American market. The Inglenook Winery project (as it was named in 2011), was just the beginning of solid business ventures leading to the recent lifestyle brand, Francis Ford Coppola Presents.

Since the early 2000s, Francis Ford Coppola Presents has managed numerous wineries, boutique hotels in Belize, Guatemala and of course Italy, as well as cafes, restaurants and even a range of pastas and sauces.

Behind the family business also lies Coppola's genius in defining the Italian aesthetic through detailed design choices. Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, Sonoma County, California is an example. The labels of the Francis Coppola Reserve's limited production wines were created by Hollywood production designer Dean Tavoularis, who worked with Coppola during the making of The Godfather saga (1972, 1974, 1990) and Apocalypse Now (1979). Inspired by The Godfather characters, the labels for the Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon bottles were adorned with faces of stereotypical Sicilians during the '50s: serious men wearing suits and hats, and buxom women with red lips, hair twists and hook noses.

The Tunisian-inspired suite no. 9 at
Palazzo Margherita.

All of Coppola's wines have a family connection. A whole line was created and entirely designed as a tribute to his only daughter, Sofia Coppola; the original Sofia sparkling wine brand debuted at her wedding. The sparkling Rosé edition's packaging comes in stylish and romantic pink bottles, whose shape evokes the elegance of feminine curves. The new Archimedes wine's label, designed with various diagrams of simple machines representing the laws of physics, is dedicated to Coppola's uncle of the same name (whose name came from the admiration of his grandfather, Agostino, for the Greek mathematician Archimedes).

The idea Coppola has of Italy is always connected somehow to the memories of his family, including the Italian costumes and traditions that they brought to America. Italy means loud and joyful people, wine at the table and the game of "bocce," a popular game that people in the small towns of southern Italy often play. 

His luxury winery in Geyserville, California, is much more than a simple winery, it's a fun paradise where Coppola recreated the atmosphere of the old days in Italy. With Tavoularis' help, Coppola designed four full-sized bocce courts as well as a pavilion near the swimming pool for exclusive events, music and dancing performances. While building the pavilion as a special place to reunite guests and VIP members, Coppola chose to reproduce the same architectural structure and decorations shown in The Godfather Part II (the scene where a full dance orchestra plays the music of the times on a pavilion bandstand, built especially for the occasion of the First Holy Communion of Anthony Corleone, the son of Michael Corleone).

Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

Francis Ford Coppola Presents' flagship is the latest boutique hotel, Palazzo Margherita, located in the town of Bernalda in Basilicata, the hometown Coppola's grandfather. Palazzo Margherita, a late 19th century residence, is the best expression of Coppola's creativity in glorifying Italian style and history. Whilst renovating it with the chic touch of French decorator Jacques Granges, the entire Coppola family was involved in the restoration without compromising the original magic of the 1800s Italian Belle Epoque.

As design director, Coppola together with his wife Eleanor, chose the materials and textiles for each of the nine suites: floor tiles made by local Italian craftsmen, stone and majolica chimneys as well as linen tents like the ones that old Italian grandmothers used to embroider for their daughters as a dowry. To preserve the elegant décor of the historic building, Coppola decorated some of the bedrooms with large glass chandeliers coming from the island of Murano in the Venetian Lagoon, in northern Italy, famous for glass making, especially lampworking. A 1940s, white marble console table in the main salon perfectly matches with the Bohemian-style flowered decorations of the hand-painted vaulted ceilings. Coppola also introduced some exotic elements. In the Suite no. 9, inspired by his grandmother Maria born in Tunisia, is a turquoise zigzag tiled floor and traditional Syrian geometric patterns on the walls.

Somehow Coppola's innovative mind never stops surprising. In whatever way you want to consider him - a director, a vintner or a hotelier and restaurateur - all these different activities and creative businesses come down to his biggest passion: entertainment.



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