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Art Meets Life

Gia Coppola adds to her family’s legacy with an acclaimed film and a trio of fun wines.

David Mushegain/Trunk Archive

With a last name that’s associated with Oscar-winning filmmakers and a successful Geyserville winery, one might think Gia Coppola has some big shoes to fill. But the fifth-generation Coppola’s initial efforts as both a movie director and winemaker have made a strong impression.

In 2012, Coppola added a light, fun line of Gia wines—a Pinot Grigio, a Pinot Noir, and a sparkling Frizzante—to the Francis Ford Coppola Presents wine collection.

Earlier this year, the 27-year-old Coppola made a splash in cinema circles with the high school drama Palo Alto, her first effort as a film director. The movie, based on a book of short stories by James Franco, received terrific reviews from critics.

The high praise and fast success haven’t gone to Gia’s head, though. She’s soft-spoken and polite, and thankful for the opportunities that have come with growing up in a family with filmmaking legends.

Q: Hi Gia, where are you today?
A: I’m in New York: I moved to New York in January. But I go back to California a lot, because I like it more there.

Q: What are your favorite places to eat and drink when you’re here?
A: I love going to Rustic at the family winery and getting the ribs: That’s been a Fourth of July tradition for my entire life. I spend a lot of time in St. Helena, and always get the roast beef sandwiches at Giugni’s Deli. In Yountville, I love the simple Italian food at Ciccio and the bakery at Bouchon.

Q:  How much of your childhood was spent in Wine Country?
A: My grandparents lived there, and I lived there with my mom until I was four.

We moved to Los Angeles, but I would go back to Napa as often as I could, for holidays and all my summers. As I have been getting older, I try to spend as much time in Napa as possible. I really love it; it’s just so peaceful.

Q: What are your favorite memories about your early days here?
A: So much activity revolved around the family garden. It’s all about what is in season and cooking with those materials. For example, August is blackberry season, so my grandmother and I would go out and pick blackberries, and make jam to give out as Christmas presents.

The nice thing about life in the Napa area today, when I am there, is that it is still very much like it was when I was little. It’s pretty easygoing. I enjoy hanging out with my family and cooking during the day, and watching movies at night.

Q: What are movie nights like in the Coppola living room?
A: My grandpa is always watching interesting movies, and he enjoys dissecting them, and sharing them with the family and talking about them. Now that I have gotten so interested in movies, it has been really fun to be included in that. Those movie nights have sort of been my film school.


Q: Now that you are directing movies and making wines, do you feel as if you have some big shoes to fill?
A: I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who have set a tone of being collaborative: I just work with people who I am close with and treat people the same way. I’m very fortunate to work with my friends. It makes it not so scary.

Q: That sounds like the spirit of the early ‘70s, when Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and your grandfather, Francis, were breaking out of the Hollywood system and making incredible movies, all the while sharing screenplays, advice, and ideas.
A: Yes, I love that period of the 1970s. I was watching THX 1138, George Lucas’ first film, and there was a behind-the-scenes documentary about how he made that movie with that group of guys. It just seemed like so much fun, making a movie guerilla style. It seemed so chaotic but that they were all in it together. I always longed for that experience.

Q: Can you talk about how you came up with the ideas for your wine and the vision you had for building the Gia brand?
A: I like lighter wines and things that can be more casual than more pretentious stuff. I wanted to be able to share it with my age group and my friends.

When you are in your early and mid-twenties, you are beginning to understand wine, but you can’t afford to spend $60 on a bottle. You want to stay in that $14 price range. When I was going to shop for wine, I would always look at the price tag first, and so I wanted to be able to create a wine in that price range.

COURTESY OF TRIBECA FILM Q: Your creative collaborator on Palo Alto was actor and writer James Franco, who also comes from a family of artists. Did you feel a kindred spirit with Franco?
A: As I have gotten to know James, I have gotten to know his family. They are all multi-talented. His family has come out to Napa and hung out.

Q: How did you two decide to work on this film together?
A: James asked me if I would be interested in directing it. I was just a photography major at the time, but James presented it like it was not a daunting task.

Q: Palo Alto is an impressive coming-of-age movie about high school kids, and again, your family has a lot of experience with this kind of movie. Your aunt Sofia directed The Virgin Suicides, your grandfather produced American Graffiti, and even your cousin Nicolas Cage had his first screen role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. What was it about this material that made you want to tell that story?
A: When I read James’ book, Palo Alto, I was really excited because I was just done with college and was at that place where I was reflecting on my teenage years.

I was working from what I know. I did not have any other story to tell. I was only 24 years old at the time, and I felt very close to his story. I loved the complexity of the characters and how they were interwoven within each other’s lives, and James’ dialogue was very realistic.

Q: How much of your filmmaking style was influenced by watching your family make so many great movies?
A: When I was younger, Sofia was the one making movies, so I got to see her process.

But I was never even allowed to see my grandpa’s movies because the content was too intense. And as I got a little older, my family did not really want to rewatch those movies that they have all seen 100 times.

Just this year, James Franco realized I had never seen The Godfather, which he thought was crazy. So we sat down and watched The Godfather I and II together straight through, which was really fun.

Q: Haven’t you seen The Godfather III? I believe you are in that film.
A: Yes, I am in that as a very little kid. I have seen parts of it, but I just remember that Sofia was shot in the movie, which was really upsetting. That one is hard for me to watch.

Q: OK—some fun questions to wrap things up. Please pair your three wines with a favorite movie.
A: The bubbly Frizzante would go well with La Dolce Vita, which I just recently saw and am really into right now. The Pinot Noir brings Jaws to mind because you can drink it on a hot summer day, because it is light … but it is also the color of blood. And the Pinot Grigio would pair with an animated movie like Spirited Away.

Q: What has been the most rewarding response you have received as a filmmaker?
A: I love to meet teenagers who have told me how much the movie meant to them and how much they related to the material. It’s very touching to hear that the movie meant so much, and that they were able to connect with the feeling of being alone and isolated that some of these characters had.

Q: The same question as a winemaker: What has been the most rewarding response you have received about your wine?
A: I’m glad just to hear that people are enjoying the wine.

I want to keep trying and perfecting the wine, and learning about wine. It has been a fascinating process to learn about the whole viticulture, from the soil to the vine to the grape to the bottle.



Discovering Coppola Winery

There are plenty of reasons besides wine tasting to visit Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The visionary filmmaker created his winery resort in the heart of Alexander Valley in the spirit of Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens—which have, as Coppola puts it, “the sense of being in a children’s garden, a ‘pleasure garden’ for all people to enjoy.” Here’s the activities menu:

Bocce: Wednesday nights in summer offer drop-in bocce tournaments: $10 gets you on a court with a glass of wine. The four regulation-size courts are free for visitors to use during daytime hours.

Dancing: One Saturday a month, through October 18, the winery offers salsa dance lessons and live music at its outdoor pavilion.

Dining: The winery’s full-service restaurant, Rustic, Francis’s Favorites, received Best Outdoor Dining accolades from OpenTable and Bohemian for 2014.

Film history: Movie lovers won’t want to miss seeing Don Corleone’s The Godfather desk, a genuine Tucker auto-mobile, and other artifacts from Coppola’s acclaimed filmmaking career.

Swimming: The winery’s gorgeous pool is open weekends, October 3–26.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery, 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, (707) 857-1471, francisfordcoppolawinery.com.

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