Photographer: Bob McClenahan for Napa Valley Vintners
Food & Drinks

Napa Valley's Glitziest Event Gets the Coppola Family Cooking

Francis Ford Coppola, his daughter Sofia, his wife Eleanor, and son Roman all have starring roles at Auction Napa Valley this year.

This weekend, the 37th edition of the world’s glitziest charity wine auction will unroll like a glamorous film directed by Hollywood royalty. The goal is to encourage the 2,000 attendees to splash out more than last year’s $14.3 million—and maybe surpass the record-breaking $18.4 million in 2014. All proceeds go to local charities. 

The glitz will come from Francis Ford Coppola and his family, who are honorarily co-chairing the annual four-day Auction Napa Valley, which officially kicks off Thursday night, June 1. But they’re no hands-off figureheads; they’ve divided responsibilities and are running with the challenge. From Sofia’s glamorous dinner, to Eleanor’s food and wine pavilions, to Gia’s after-party, the Coppolas have it covered. 

“We had a little family meeting, and each person—my wife Eleanor, daughter Sofia, son Roman, granddaughter Gia, and I—seemed to connect with a particular aspect of the event,” says Coppola. 

Five-time Oscar winner Coppola is both directing and cooking the weekend’s food high point, the Saturday post-auction dinner. That’s right; the Godfather maestro himself will be in the kitchen with the pasta and contorni.  Want to help? Auction-goers can sign on to be one of the 30 “extras” he needs as sous-chefs to stir the pomodoro sauce or hand roll gnocchi. He’ll surely be telling family stories, as he always does.

A Capo in the Kitchen

American director and producer Francis Ford Coppola with his wife Eleanor, 1987. 
Photographer: Juergen Vollmer/Moviepix

Coppola has played this kind of role many times before. 

As a fledgling director he used to whip up pasta regularly for a small group of friends that included George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. He has joined Martha Stewart in the kitchen to make potato gnocchi and prepared his secret spaghetti recipe for a dinner at the 2015 Marrakech International Film Festival. 

But the Coppola auction participation reflects the family’s deep connection to the Napa Valley that started when Francis and Eleanor bought part of the historic Inglenook winery estate in 1975 after the success of The Godfather. They call it home. When they started producing wine in 1977, the family crushed those grapes by foot, Coppola once told me. 

The saga of how they restored the legendary property over nearly 40 years has the twists and turns of a good movie script. Their initial purchase included only the family mansion and some 1,500 acres; not until in 1995 were they able to buy the winery building and its key vineyards. They added more vines in 2002 and acquired the final piece—the trademarked Inglenook name, owned by a corporation—in 2011. 

Auction Napa Valley

Bidders participate in the 2016 Auction,
Photographer: Jon McPherson for Napa Valley Vintners

Spread out over the weekend are dinners, parties, and three opportunities to bid big bucks—the e-Auction, the Friday Barrel Auction, and the Saturday Live Auction. Among the 25 Napa County charities that are benefiting are the St. Helena Hospital and the local Boys & Girls Clubs. 

One Coppola or another is involved in most of the events. The e-Auction, with 186 lots, kicked off on May 28 (minimum bid, $250) and wraps up June 4. On Thursday and Friday nights, auction ticket-holders head to intimate parties under the stars at various wineries, with the chance to taste special wines. 

The Rest of the Family 

A photo collage of the Coppola family members that are acting as honorary chairs for Auction Napa Valley 2017. Clockwise from top left: Francis, Eleanor, Gia, Sofia, Roman.
Source: The Coppola Family

Sofia Coppola, who just won best director at the Cannes Film Festival for her new movie The Beguiled, is curating the most glamorous one, the hush-hush, invitation-only dinner for 2016’s top bidders that will, undoubtedly, include some Hollywood luminaries. 

Friday’s lunchtime Barrel Auction at the Inglenook Estate (108 lots; minimum bid $200 for a case of wine) is Eleanor Coppola’s star turn. Fresh off the release of her first feature, Paris Can Wait, she approached the planning of six tented food and wine “pavilions,” where you can grab lunch and wines to match, with a set designer’s eye. 

“There was the same basic tussle between the director’s vision and the producer who is controlling the budget,” she says. The wood she wanted for the tasting bars in the pavilions was too expensive. Her solution: raw wood from fallen trees on a friend’s property. 

Set up outside the winery, the pavilions are a new element at this year’s auction, a way to focus on food and wine pairing. Each highlights a chef from one of the Coppolas’ favorite Napa Valley restaurants—the featured chef chooses dishes from his or her menu to pair with wines for a particular varietal. Masuharo Morimoto, best known for his star role on the TV show Iron Chef, for example, is preparing Hamachi Tacos and Maka Rolls to scoff down with 15 Napa Valley sauvignon blancs, including one of my favorites, Arkenstone Vineyards. 

Chateau Inglenook.
Source: Inglenook

What to Bid On

The Barrel auction takes place inside the Inglenook winery. Each lot is a barrel of wine from a different estate, and when the auction closes, the top 10 bidders for a lot each win a case of that wine. And this year, for the first time, remote bidding will be available online.  Definite highlights include the Mascot, a cabernet made from the younger vines of Harlan Estate, Bond, and Promontory, and Melka Wines’ Métisse Martinez cabernet. 

Roman Coppola is the maestro of Saturday afternoon’s Live Auction at Meadowood resort, which perennially pulls in the biggest haul of the weekend. It’s a gathering of 38 lavish vintner-sponsored lots, such as the trip to Tetiaroa, Marlon Brando’s private island (Lot 5), and a two-week voyage on the World, the largest privately owned mega-yacht on earth (Lot 10).   Roman’s latest hit is the Golden Globe-award-winning TV series Mozart in the Jungle—if you snap up Lot 16, you can spend time with him on the set. No word on what kind of music will be played at the auction to hype the bids, but he promises surprises.

The big Coppola offer is Lot 1—a stay at the family's 19th-century Victorian mansion on the Inglenook estate, then a flight in Francis’s Falcon 7X jet for a stay at their luxurious hotel, Palazzo Margherita, in southern Italy. 

All lots contain multiple items—wine, bespoke jewels, cars, trips, and more—that vintners start putting together months in advance. Among others that caught my eye: fishing at a private island in Alaska (Lot 19), the ultimate art and wine tour of Florence (Lot 27), and three days of luxury glamping (glamorous camping) in airstream trailers on a 10,000-acre ranch (Lot 34). 

The ultimate wine offer is surely Lot 20, a rare Balthazar (12-liter bottle) of Screaming Eagle. 

The Big Dinner

Chefs stoke the fires beneath Chef Francis Mallmann's celebration of meat cooked over open flames at 2016's event. 
Photographer: Briana Marie for Napa Valley Vintners

So what, exactly, is chef Coppola cooking up for the dinner crowd of hungry bidders?  For exact details, you’ll just have to guess—and keep in mind that he’s never cooked for 900 people before. “Pulling that off will be surprise enough,” he emailed. Not to worry.  Just as in making a movie, there’s backup: the chef and culinary team at Meadowood. 

But we do know the menu is heavy on Coppola’s favorite family recipes—platters of traditional antipasto, homemade gnocchi with his pomodoro basilico pepperoncini sauce, escarole sauteed with olive oil and garlic, classic bistecca Fiorentina, which he learned to make in Rome, his mother’s take on cream puffs, and more. 

His granddaughter Gia, who directed Palo Alto, an adaptation of James Franco’s short story collection, has taken on the after party, with the help of Texas retro-soul musician Leon Bridges. For $10,000, you can sip on Gia’s signature sangria with her in a VIP lounge. 

“In the end,” says Francis Coppola, “wine and food is all really about show business.” 

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