“Drinking wine is just a part of life, like eating food.”
-Francis Ford Coppola
A great friend of mine celebrated a milestone birthday this year. Debbi has a large, wonderfully close family plus a big circle of friends. She is fun to be with, full of positive energy and is funny in that endearing way in which most of the time, she has no idea she’s being funny. Spending time with her is always uplifting, so when she sent over an invitation to join one of the several birthday celebrations gatherings in her honor this year, I immediately cleared my calendar and RSVP’d that I was thrilled to attend.
Debbi’s cousin had arranged a reservation for her and 11 guests of her choosing to spend a day at the revered pools on the grounds of the acclaimed Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, CA. I was super excited to be included because 1) please see description of Debbi in the first paragraph; 2) I had not yet visited Coppola’s latest venture in winemaking, and 3) It involved spending a summer day by the pool on luxurious lounge chairs, including day use of a cabine- at a winery. Let the thought of that totally sink in for a minute. What could be more uniquely fun and relaxing for winery visitors/wine lovers?
Its been said that during his time in the California wine country over the years, Francis observed so much flocking around winery fountains, often centered around children pleading with parents to let them get in and swim, that he made sure to include plans for a large pool at his own winery. I can tell you first hand that this (like many of his other ideas) was genius. The winery itself actually opened in 2010, after a remodeling of the former Chateau Souverain to more accurately meet Francis’ vision. The pools however just opened in the spring of this year.
Weather-wise we totally lucked out- it was an absolutely gorgeous late summer day. The sky was blue, the sun was hot and we were ready to enjoy everything the winery had to offer. Upon passing through the entrance gates, we immediately spotted the outdoor reception desk and stepped up to check in. We were handed plush towels, keys to our cabine and chilled mini cans of the Sofia Blanc de Blancs with straws to enjoy poolside.
The design of the pool area is comprised of two long rectangular swimming pools connected down the middle by another wide pool, replete with slim arches of water spouts on both sides. It also features a row of rentable cabines (beach hut in Italian), for those guests who’d like to rent a private locker of sorts, that also houses a large shower.
We headed over to our reserved lounge chairs and began to settle in for the day. After the 90 minute ride up from the Bay Area, we couldn’t wait to get into our swimsuits and refresh ourselves in the cool pool water. We were not even sure exactly what any cabine could possibly be about, so we excitedly headed down to check ours out and change.
While marveling at our stylish private hide-a-way, we quickly slipped into our swimsuits and headed back to the pool. By this time our mini Sofia Blanc de Blancs were almost empty, so we ordered up more adult beverages. After fresh glasses of Sofia Blanc de Blancs were poured, we gathered round our lounge chairs and gave a hearty toast to our hostess, the birthday girl.
We were also ready for some much needed lunch. The poolside café menu provided a well-rounded list of selections, and we made sure to order a variety of great dishes.
We drank: more Sofia Blanc de Blancs. Although obviously the wine list is all Coppola, there are 11 different labels under which to make a selection.
We ate (family style): the Caprese salad. A pretty presentation that was as fresh as it was delicious. We also ordered the French Fried zucchini. It was not exactly on our swimsuit-body diets, but they actually looked liked potato fries and tasted even better. We loved our Cobb salad; it is generously full of all the usual savory ingredients, but this one also included olives and the dressing served was a perfect compliment to the rest of the salad.
Once nourished, it was time to hit those pools. We took our (plastic) wine glasses into the water with us, and chatted away while we cooled off. The afternoon was super warm, and we ended up spending most of it in the pool, enjoying the wine and socializing not only amongst ourselves, but also with some of the other guests poolside.
The afternoon passed in what felt like a minute, and before we knew it, it was closing time (pool hours are 11am-6pm). We dried off a bit in the sun and headed back to our cabine to change back into our street clothes. Our mini vacation was not quite over yet however, as we were planning to take a look around the rest of the grounds and enjoy dinner at Francis’s onsite restaurant, Rustic.
There was time to spare before our diner table reservation, so we headed toward the Movie Gallery and the Retail store. They are housed in a single location right off of the restaurant; the Movie Gallery is upstairs and the Retail store downstairs. As one would imagine, the Movie Gallery was filled with Francis’ personal film memorabilia and included an impressive wall of items from my personal all-time favorite film, The Godfather.
The Retail store was filled with all kinds of wonderful epicurean delights: bags of pasta noodles, jars of pasta sauce, olive oil (naturally) and table ware, amongst other offerings. I was especially attracted to a gorgeous Eiffel Tower shaped display of Sofia wines, sweets, Coppola engraved wine glasses and other accessories for wine lovers. I’m not sure, but its possible that drinking Sofia Blanc de Blancs all day may have had something to do with this.
Soon it was time to be seated at Rustic. We had all enjoyed our lunch very much and were by now hungry for dinner. We were shown to a lovely outdoor table on the Rustic patio overlooking the vineyards. As we settled into our seats, we took in the picturesque view and prepared to enjoy our meal, while the rays of the sun slowly began to sink across the western sky.
Anyone would likely expect a strictly Italian presentation of cuisine at Rustic, however the menu is almost surprisingly international in flavor. Upon learning that its comprised of Francis’ all-time favorite dishes, the diversity in selection makes perfect sense. The variety of foods is pretty expansive, and its hard to imagine a patron out there who could not find something to eat here. As I pondered my own dinner order, I realized that the menu itself is actually an autobiography of sorts. On the list of Francis’s Favorites, under each entree listed is an explanation of the dish, including a personal tidbit of info on how it made this list of favorites. I found myself reading it as if it were a memoir; I felt as if I had learned a lot about Francis afterward. Its clear that a lot of thought and care went into the design of both the restaurant and the preparation of the food.
After much deliberation, I ordered the Spaghetti Al Pomodoro. I know, it sounds downright boring after such a glamorous day, but I craved something light and it totally fit the bill. The noodles were perfectly cooked and the sauce was exactly as I had hoped- flavorful and satisfying, without being too rich or too spicy. Everyone at the table voiced extreme pleasure in their own food selections, and although dessert was offered, we declined in order to get going on the long journey back home.
At the end of it all we linked arms, walked out to the parking lot to depart the winery, all the while vowing to return again. We could almost hear the strains of Il Padrino in the background as we took off in the warm dark night. It was definitely one of those unique kinds of memorable experiences you wanted to get straight home to write about.
©2017 Lisa Ihnken All Rights Reserved, except where noted.