[Interview] Coppola acquires Silverwood Vineyard in California

In California, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, has announced its purchase of Silverwood Vineyard and surrounding acreage located high on the slopes of Pine Mountain. Home to the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA established in 2011, this mountain straddles the two counties of Sonoma and Mendocino. This transaction comes on the heels of the purchase for the reported figure of $180 million by Gallo of the large Stagecoach vineyard in the Napa Valley that supplies as many as 100 wineries, and which has other wine producers scrambling to consolidate their vineyard sourcing.

The 13 acre (5.25 hectare) plot acquired by Coppola, planted to Cabernet, Merlot, and Malbec, is part of the large Silverwood Ranch owned and developed by the Hoffner family as a valuable grape source for several well-known wine producers, including Coppola itself since 2006. This vineyard will henceforth be devoted principally to FFCW’s flagship wine, Archimedes.

Archimedes is currently an Alexander Valley proprietary red composed predominantly of Cabernet Sauvignon, but also including Petit Verdot and Malbec. Corey Beck, Director of Winemaking & General Manager of FFCW, explained the reasons for the acquisition in an interview with Vinexpo Newsroom:

« We have about 13 acres planted right now, but we will plant another 8 acres (3.25 hectares) this year. There remain yet another 22 acres (8.9 hectares) of bare land that can be developed, and the goal is to attain a total of some 45 acres (18.2 hectares) in the future, and produce from the site an Archimedes Estate wine.»

This will in all likelihood be labelled with the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA but will not use the name of Silverwood Vineyard as the designation of origin.

According to Beck, FFCW embraces the trend toward vineyard-designate wines aimed at consumers who wish to know exactly where their food and wine come from, but also the waves of change in California wine styles.

« I think that overall the styles are changing in California wine as consumers, especially the younger drinkers, are moving away from the big, high-octane alcohol wines. We are looking to produce balanced wines that come with lower alcohol and better acidity, ones that will keep their vitality for five years or more. The very sophisticated buyers for large outlets such as Costco, or even Whole Foods, are also more and more interested in finding balanced wines. »

This issue of freshness and balance in addition to specific vineyard character is pertinent with regards to FFCW’s recent acquisition of Silverwood Vineyard. According to Beck, « It has 2 ½ acres (1 hectare) of Malbec vines producing gorgeous grapes with beautiful acidity and color. Although Petit Verdot is also gaining fans in California as another blending grape, we are very bullish about Malbec, especially when it is grown in the coastal regions, because in addition to its use in blends, it can be a stand-alone grape variety. »

A notable feature of the Silverwood Vineyard is its high elevation location that varies between 1800 and 3000 feet (549 and 914 meters). As the Roman poet Virgil noted, Bacchus loves hills, but that does not necessarily extend to mountains. Mountainside vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma valleys once had the reputation of producing characterful, longlived wines but endowed with at times very firm, even ferocious, tannins in the early stages. Corey Beck says that modern winemaking techniques today enable them to use a more deft touch to tame the « mountain tannins » and bring them into balance with the fruit flavors. « One of the things we love about this vineyard is that it sits in full sunshine above the summer fog line, so it is a place where grapes will always reach ripeness, but where you can make the choice of how ripe you want it. We want to make a wine that is approachable and balanced from the start, but with aging capacity. I was in Houston, Texas recently having dinner with Francis where the Archimedes 2006, our very first vintage of it, was on the wine list, so we of course ordered it. It was so unbelievably fresh and youthful that Francis just glowed with pleasure and pride. »