Fathom's editorial assistant Daniel Schwartz spent a day in Sonoma county learning about viticulture, swimming and sunbathing, and dining on oversized portions at a winery run by the godfather himself, Francis Ford Coppola.
SONOMA, California – On a recent trip to Sonoma County, I spent an unforgettable day at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. I returned a bit wider (in my family, that's something to celebrate) and wiser (we care about that, too). Here's what happened.
7 A.M. IN GEYSERVILLE
I wake up at Geyserville Inn, a quiet hotel off Redwood Highway (US 101). The light streaming into my bright room stirs me at this ungodly early hour. I skip the free coffee calling my name from across the lobby and step outside into the brisk September breeze. Walking north on Geyserville Avenue towards Geyserville Mud Cafe, gazing through the branches that separate the street from the rows of breathtaking vineyards on the other side, I decide I don't need any cappuccino. I continue to downtown Geyserville anyway, shuffling through antique goodies at Gin'Gilli's Vintage Home, taking a photo note of Catelli's and Diavola Pizzeria for future dinners.
10 A.M. ON THE VINEYARD
At Francis Ford Coppola Winery, a ten-minute two-step on Redwood Highway, I check in with Lise Asimont, Director of Grower Relations. Rambling through 24 acres of planted vineyard, feeling the rocky soil give beneath my boots, I learn to taste-test grapes for ripeness (chew skin, don't swallow, dab spit, check color). Then I geek out over the winery's sustainability program, which controls vine health with integrated pest management, fertilizes with composted grape pomace, and closes the loop on water waste by using reclaimed water to irrigate.
1 P.M. BY THE POOL
I end the active part of my day and post up at the winery pool, open weekends through October. Reservations are required and include access to European-style cabines, which are stocked with showers, towels, Sofia Mini white wine singles, and Zoetrope: All-Story fiction magazines. I slather on sunscreen and order an agave honey margarita and full-size Pizza Sophia (wild arugula, prosciutto di Parma, and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano) from the Pool Cafe.
Breaking the unwritten rule of the pre-pool digestion period, I jump in and float full-stomach among splashing kids and boozed-up parents. Looking around, I notice an adorable teepee children's library, bocce courts, and an event park pavilion with an original mural from Godfather: Part II. It turns out kid-friendly wineries do exist. And I'm swimming at one of them.
3 P.M. IN THE WINERY
Inside the winery, I'm following grapes on their journey from pluck to pour on a behind-the-scenes look at wine production, which guests can experience on the Bottling Ballet Mecanique Tasting tour. Before we start, I stop and stare at truckloads of grapes getting dumped, de-stemmed, and washed, wondering why this is so satisfying to watch. They let me in on the action, and soon I'm straining my muscles stirring the aromatic contents of a yeast-free primary fermenting tank. I move on and almost pass out from sniffing the concentrated carbon dioxide of a yeast-heavy secondary fermenting tank, which I strongly caution against. We finish the tour in the labeling room, which isn't running because it's the weekend. Blame it on the yeast high: I find myself imagining blank bottles dance down the conveyor belt.
Out front, I take a seat at the gallery bar for a First Flight Experience wine tasting. I test my taste buds on Francis Ford Coppola Reserve wines made from estate grapes (other Coppola wines are blends of grapes from around Sonoma) and chat with the chilled-out barman about charming local towns and the original surfboards from Apocalypse Now on display behind us. Content with the experience, I ask about other offerings and make a mental note to come back for Tasting in the Dark, a two-hour blind tasting of four wines conducted by a White House-recognized blind graduate student from UC Davis.
6 P.M. AT DINNER
I take a seat outside at Rustic, Francis' Favorites, the winery's casual family-style restaurant with the strange name and order a Fiorentina steak, a massive bone-in porterhouse for two that's cooked on the restaurant's parilla. I pair the dish, served with Caeser salad and fries, with Director's Cut pinot noir and chocolate mousse for dessert. I work on the steak for at least an hour, taking breaks to look up at Alexander Valley and chat with the chef who is checking in on my progress. (Yes, chef! I will finish this!)
I shoot grappa to soothe my stomach and walk around the cinema gallery to ease my head, which is racing from the ghost stories shared at dinner. Calming down would be easier if I could forget that a spirit allegedly likes to visit the winery. She's friendly and only opens doors and flickers lights (you know, standard ghost activity), but that doesn't help. I stare across the pool at the corner where the bocce courts meet the winery building (her favorite spot), blinking obsessively, waiting for some ethereal gas to rush at me.
After a few minutes (or an hour, who knows), I hone in on the display cases and post photos of Academy Awards, clutter from Don Corleone's desk from The Godfather, and the red car from Tucker: The Man and his Dream to Snapchat, then buy a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola Reserve wine (only available on premise) to bring home. I ask when Francis plans to open an on-site hotel (the winery has no accommodations) before I drive back to Geyserville Inn.
9 P.M. UNDER THE STARS
I walk into my hotel room and notice my porch door open. Unsure if I forgot to lock it or if the spirit from the winery followed me home, I quickly trade my oppressive pants for sweats and escape outside. Looking up at the sea of stars, I decide to ditch the hotel light pollution and seek peace with the universe in the vineyard next door. After running into the middle of the field, I remember that I'm afraid of the dark (clearly, I wasn't thinking straight, but it's so easy to forget when you live in New York City) and freak out over the sounds of crushed leaves and distant howling coyotes. In my panic, I look up. I notice the Milky Way cutting through the night sky, compare myself in size, and realize that my fears, just like the shooting stars disintegrating overhead, are temporary and harmless.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How To Get There
By car, the winery is roughly 90 minutes from San Francisco International airport (SFO) and two hours from Sacramento International airport (SMF). If you want to road trip, the winery is two hours from San Jose and eight hours from Los Angeles.
Public transportation is almost nonexistent in Geyserville, so rent a car at the airport. In my experience, Uber is unreliable near the winery, although I didn't try Lyft, which is more popular on the West Coast. Healdsburg Taxi Cab (+1-707-433-7088) is a local option if you're stranded after too many tastings.
When to Go
The winery is open year-round, but if you want to swim, visit between April 2nd and October 25th. Account for the seasons: buds bloom in the spring and harvest happens in the fall. If you plan around events like their harvest parties and halloween carnival, check their website for tickets and times.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
300 Via Archimedes
Geyserville, CA 95441