SaloonBox Behind The Scenes: Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Our December kits featured a truly special sparkling wine from Francis Ford Coppola winery. We had a chance to speak to winemaker Tondi Bolkan to go behind the scenes on this legendary family business.
What is your personal background, how did you come to work with Francis Ford Coppola Winery?
I graduated from UC Davis in Neurobiology, intending to go in the health medical field. Upon my first internship at the hospital, I passed out cold. Since then, I turned to winemaking and haven’t looked back.
I started with The Family Coppola back in 2001 as a lab tech, then worked my way up to enologist, assistant winemaker, and finally my ultimate goal as winemaker.
What intrigues you about the company/brand?
I am proud to be a part of a company where the owners have full involvement with all aspects of the company, the executives know and respect their employees, and the coworkers make work a pleasant place to come to everyday!
Our founder fell in love with Sofia mini cans back when she had an event planning business. At the time, it seemed to be the only sparkling wine using such a fun and creative package (we love the straw!). Is there a story behind the idea to put your sparkling wine in mini cans? Who came up with the idea and was it an instant hit in the market?
In 1998, Francis gave our Sofia Blanc de Blancs 750mL as a present to Sofia. In 2002, Francis wanted to try to put that same blend into a can. We did a year of R&D before releasing in 2003. At first, wine in a can was slow to catch on. But with more wine education, market exposure, and a loyal fan base, we now can’t “can” enough Sofia Minis!
On a side note, the straw idea came from the days when Sofia was modeling for Marc Jacobs and Francis noticed the models drinking from straws as not to smudge their lipstick! So each straw is hand applied for you.
What makes Sofia Blanc de Blancs different from any other sparkling on the market?
Most sparkling wines are made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Most Italian Proseccos are made with the Prosecco grape varietal with some blenders. We wanted a fruity profile with delicate aromatics which is why the varietal make up is Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Muscat.
When we visited the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, the wine was only part of what made the visit so much fun. It was also a museum of sorts, displaying great memorabilia from Francis Ford Coppola's career. How does Coppola's personal story influenced the wines you produce?
As I mentioned before, I work for a company where the owners are involved in many aspects of the company. A former executive used to tell me: Francis creates the big picture ideas (wines, labels, destinations, experiences) and then also asks for the smallest details like hand apply straws on the minis or tie a red string around every Vendetta bottle. The big things have to happen and the little things have to happen. The rest of us are allowed to use our creativity to fill in the middle.
Every wine we produce is authentic and personal to Francis, and that helps us create the style for each wine.
Have you seen Sofia used in any other great cocktails, aside from Fig Wishes, which we are currently featuring in our December SaloonBox kit?
A signature cocktail served at our holiday party is the French 75 made up of cognac, Sofia sparkling, simple sugar, and a twist of lemon. One of my favorites!
What has been one of the most exciting moments for you as a winemaker? What has been one of the most exciting moments for the winery?
As a winemaker representing Francis Coppola Winery, I’ve had many opportunities to travel and meet interesting and entertaining people. The Family Coppola has reached many milestones over the years. To get the full timeline, check out our website: www.thefamilycoppola.com
What are some challenges you face?
Our biggest challenge every year is juggling bottling line time for all the wines we make. Quality is our first priority, for the wine and the packaging. We have a great production team that makes what you drink look seamless. Praises for our cellar, laboratory, bottling, maintenance, and quality assurance teams!
What’s next for the company? Any plans for new versions or products in the pipeline that you can talk about right now?
This year we will be releasing a Sofia Brut Rose in a 750mL and can! As for what’s next for the company, we will wait to hear from the family…