My just ended summer vacation was highlighted by an unforgettable trip to the wine country of the Napa Valley, California. It is “unforgettable” not because of what Napa is most famous for, but because of an unexpected stop at an early film treasure house “disguised” as a winery. Actually, the place is not prominently marked along the St. Helena Highway (also known as Highway 29). It is more or less a detour, or a sudden stop that led me and my friends to this magnificent estate hidden behind an unimpressed drive path.
It is called the Inglenook Estate, owned now entirely by Francis Ford Coppola, the legendary Godfather and Apocalypse Now creator. The estate was first acquired in 1880 by a Finnish sea captain named Gustave Niebaum, who began to produce the Inglenook wine at the stone Chateau. I guess some old wine enthusiasts may still have had a fond memory of the wine, as it contributed to the growing fame of the Napa Valley, or the “New World” according to the vocabulary spoken by wine insiders.
It is quite amazing that Coppola was able to purchase most of the Inglenook properties in 1975 by using the money he earned from the making of Godfather I & II. The original Godfather (1970), according to Wikipedia, only cost 6.5 million to make, but its box office exceeded 268 million worldwide. No wonder Coppola could afford such a marvelous estate back then. There was a twist to this acquisition, though. Coppola was only able to own part of the properties at that time, and apparently had no right to continue producing the Inglenook wine despite this acquisition.
It is no longer the case now. In 1995, the Coppola family reunited the estate with the acquisition of the Chateau and the remaining vineyards; and in 2011, the family purchased the Inglenook trademark, which I guess will represent the high-end Coppola wine to be produced in the very near future, with the Coppola-named wine (widely available in California, with unsophisticated taste and finish) as the low-end product.
What makes the Inglenook Estate stand out in Napa’s more-than-300 wineries is certainly its special relation with cinema. After owning its entirety, Coppola quickly turned the place into a private museum dedicated to his personal life as a filmmaker as well as to early cinema. While the first-floor exhibition is interesting if you are into Coppola’s personal life, the second floor is a treasure room for early cinema. On display is a variety of pre-cinema viewing devices, some quite exotic and weird-looking. Also on display is a full range of early film projectors, and any one of them makes a wonderful choice for a film museum and curator. It is simply an awe-inspiring scene.
Fine wines, stars, films, and luxurious mansions, are these all naturally connected? The Coppola-owned Inglenook Estate says “Yes.”