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February 25, 2010

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Coppola's wines debut in Shanghai

FOR more than 30 years famed American director Francis Ford Coppola has been toiling in the vineyard, turning out exclusive California wines that recently made their debut in Shanghai. David Maguire tastes.

The surge in American wine makers' interest in China received another boost earlier this month with the debut in Shanghai of reds and whites from the California vineyards of movie legend Francis Ford Coppola.

The 70-year-old director of "Apocalypse Now" and two "Godfather" films owns two wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma County and has been producing quality wines for the US market for more than 30 years.

The timing was perfect and the production standards impressive as a small range of his wines made their debut at a five-star hotel function with canap??s in Puxi, almost as an encore to an earlier bigger push into the market by American wine importers.

Late last month, 16 locally based wine trading companies - representing 40 US wineries and over 130 varieties, mainly from California - participated in the largest ever show of force by the US wine industry in the Shanghai market.

Both the Coppola event and the US wine show targeted senior hotel and restaurant managers in Shanghai, reflecting the elevated appeal to American exporters of the increasing interest in China of imported wines.

The Coppola collection available for tasting - the wines arrived in Shanghai only three days before they were launched - included varietals labeled under the Diamond Collection range, Director's Cut brand and products from the iconic Rubicon Estate.

The standout "drink-now" red among the selection was the zinfandel-sirah-cabernet sauvignon blend Coppola Rosso 2007, a smooth, light-bodied wine with a fine balance of fruits and berry tastes. Retailing for 154 yuan (US$23), it is an ideal wine to quaff or savor with any Chinese cuisine.

Of the Diamond Collection range, Ivory Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (259 yuan) is a brilliant full-bodied red which will become finer as it ages, and the Petite Sirah 2007 (273 yuan) is complex with palate-dominating rich fruit.

The Director's Cut cabernet sauvignon (352 yuan) needs bottle aging, still showing a complex youthful bite yet with enough promise to trust it is on the way to a smoother finish. It has balance and an inherent softness in an already well-rounded body.

A long history and tradition of excellence inspired the Coppola family to make estate-grown wine of the highest quality after they acquired the Inglenook mansion and vineyards of Rubicon Estate in 1975.

Rubicon is the birthplace of the vision that made Napa Valley the envy of cabernet lovers. It is where in 1880, Captain Gustave Niebaum established the first winery in the "New World" devoted entirely to making estate-bottled wine, focusing on cabernet sauvignon-based products.

The Napa Valley pioneer Robert Mondavi introduced Coppola to the history and wines of the Rubicon Estate. They drank a late 19th century cabernet together from its cellars and such was the youthful, complex character of the wine, that Coppola vowed he would work to revive the reputation of the vineyard.

The Coppola family has continued to invest over the years, having completed restoration of the winery in 2002, digging extensive caves to age wine in 2004, and implementing no-till farming and dry farming practices in 2007.

But the traditions being pursued by the Coppolas don't stop with the wineries.

Larry Stone, general manager of Rubicon Estate, explains in advance of the Shanghai launch that the Rosso label and its white wine sister Bianco are multi-regional blends that recreate the pleasurable wines that were part of the comforts of home for many Italian-American emigrants.

Stone says the company is committed to being recognized as a world-class producer of wines.

"We believe that the Chinese market is one of the most important emerging wine markets today, and we are willing to spend time to be part of that exciting growth," he says.

"However, we only are a small, exclusive winery, with a small fraction of our production to offer the Chinese market. We hope that people interested in tasting an outstanding Napa Valley wine with individuality will have an opportunity to try one of the wines from Rubicon Estate."

Stone recognizes that French exporters dominate the China market, predominantly with Bordeaux wines. "This is only natural, since the French, especially the Bordelaise, have a long-standing history of wine exportation to Asia, and we do not. Really, the French wine market is founded upon export."

He was confident that the Chinese market would become more diverse as it grows and becomes more familiar with wines from California.

"We can already see that there has been phenomenal growth in the import of California wine, a sign that people in China are ready to experiment with new wines, be more diverse in what they drink, and really find out what they like."

As with most new entrants to the China market - where wine traders seek to link the drink with the cuisine - Stone is no exception, but acknowledges that no single wine will work with "several diverse, great regional cuisines."

"In general, with a dish like spicy Sichuan beef, I would probably have a ripe red wine, like one of our Director's Zinfandels (326 yuan), Diamond Sirah or even a Rosso. But with some of the more delicate fish dishes, I would probably look for a dry Director's Cut Chardonnay or even a Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc."

Coppola wines are distributed through Torres China.


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