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The Other Coppola

“Apocalypse Now” on the Napa River?  The PT boat used in the movie was shipped here from the Philippines to rest near a grove of olive trees on Francis Ford Coppola’s Niebaum estate. He needed the boat to reshoot the scene when Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) reads the dossier on Col. Kurz (Marlon Brando.) The shots are tight on Sheen and boat, and the Napa River is sufficiently out of focus to stand in for the Mekong. 

I'm reading Eleanor Coppola's, "Notes On A Life" and the PT boat story is one of the many movie tidbits that I found fascinating. But the book is not about movies, or for that matter, wine. It is a deeply personal story about an artist that is so understanding of the creative process and so loving a wife and mother that she often put the artistic needs of her family before her own. 

The beauty of the book is how Coppola writes about her life, a privileged life, in ways that people like me can share: the hotel room with a feverish child, blinds drawn and wet diapers in the wastebasket, the aching distance from a son who is becoming a man, and the happy rapprochement when he finds a woman he loves. The bubbling resentment that comes with the chores of managing a family, and the joy of a birthday celebrated with women friends. Her most universal experiences, at least for those of us lucky enough to live in Napa, are the scents and colors of this beautiful valley.  You don’t have to live on the Neibaum estate to enjoy the smell of bay and eucalyptus trees, the dirt of an old wagon track or the leafy green of the vineyards. 

I bought the book on what was a perfect day for me in Napa.  On a Saturday morning, with nothing to do (nothing to do is one of the luxuries of the non-celebrity), I saw on the Napa Register’s online calendar that “Ellie” (as I like to think of her) was going to be at the Cameo Cinema for a book talk and screening of her award-winning documentary, “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.”  It was very hot and very bright that summer day and entering the dark theater was a treat in itself. I had seen a huge limo parked outside, air conditioning running. It didn’t seem like Ellie’s style.  Maybe it was Margrit Mondavi who was there to support her friend.

A Blanc de Blanc called “Sofia” was served in the tiny lobby of the 100-seat Deco theater.  It looked beautiful bubbling in the table of flutes and in the bottles wrapped in pinkish cellophane. It tasted delicious too, but I can’t pretend that I was a discriminating taster on that hot day, in a cool theater, with the lovely woman who signed my book. 

Later I looked online for a place to buy Sofia. I found it on what I think was as a defunct webpage, packaged in four-pack cans! Who knows whose decision it was to try this marketing approach – but it smacks of Francis Ford’s willingness to experiment.  Good try FFC, but I like the bottle in pink cellophane better.  For a male perspective, see what Garry V has to say.







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