The Coppola Effect

A lot of locals fantasize about plowing their retirement years and accumulated fortunes into wineries. Some actually do it.

How to make a million in the wine business?

Start with $3 million. Despite that well-worn joke, the romantic fantasy endures, perhaps because of risktakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, who managed the leap from filmmaker to winemaker with undeniable aplomb.

Orange County vintners are chasing the dream despite high California real estate prices, stiff competition in the state’s $60 billion wine industry, and the occasional natural disaster. “You could lose your shirt in one harvest,” says Irvine vintner Claude Koeberle, whose line of boutique Sonoma wines is sold mostly in posh restaurants, including Marché Moderne at South Coast Plaza. Chris Radomski of Laguna Beach, a founder of the Hundred Acre and Layer Cake labels, recalls hiring helicopters three years ago to hover over his rain-drenched Napa vineyards to prevent mold damage. Was it worth $30,000? Definitely. “The biggest thrill is when someone says, ‘Layer Cake. That’s my favorite!’ ”

Here are some of the O.C. mavericks who dared.

Hamilton Oaks Vineyard
Visit Ron Tamez’s Trabuco Canyon tasting room Wednesday through Sunday by appointment. (A second tasting room just opened in San Juan Capistrano.) He’s grown grapes on the property since 1989, but we like his 2008 Jumping Vines cabernet with fruit from Russian River’s prestigious Chalk Hill area. It won gold at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. $17 to $75. At the tasting room, 31111 Hamilton Trail, Trabuco Canyon, 949-459-6913; and

Zotovich Cellars
Real estate entrepreneur Stephen M. Zotovich of Corona del Mar passed on his wine passion to nephew Ryan, his partner in a winery in the Santa Rita Hills. At the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, Zotovich pours chardonnay, and reserve and estate pinots, which have earned scores in the low 90s from fussy critic Stephen Tanzer. $22 to $46. At the tasting room at 1500 E. Chestnut Court, Lompoc, 805-736-1600; and

Thompkin Cellars
Newport residents Jeff Dobkin and Julie Thompson-Dobkin—he’s a nuclear medicine radiologist; she’s a neurologist—host festive tastings and other events at their Costa Mesa winery. Boutique retailers adore Troisieme Degré, a mix of syrah, grenache, and mourvedre. $27.50 to $37.50. At 949-574-9850; and

Crinella Winery
Frank Crinella, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at UC Irvine, and his sister Ramona inherited land in Sonoma County from their parents. They planted sauvignon blanc in Santa Rosa and pinot noir in Forestville, and also sell grapes to prominent vintners Hanna, Kosta Brown, and Merry Edwards. Crinella’s sauvignon blanc exudes delicate peach and honeysuckle flavors balanced by sturdy acidity. $22 to $42. A Forestville tasting room is in the works; available at 707-887-8474; and

Laguna Canyon Winery
Canadian expat Marlowe Huber, who built his winery in 2003, uses fruit from Napa and Sonoma for his red, white, sparkling, and dessert wines. He won seven OC Fair medals this year. He pours ($2 per taste) at two locations in Laguna Beach. $16 to $48. At local Albertsons and the winery’s two tasting rooms, 2133 Laguna Canyon Road, 949-715-9463, closed Monday; and daily at 380 Glenneyre St., 949-715-1621; and

Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery
Richard Moriarty created a bucolic 3.-acre retreat just a 15-minute walk from John Wayne Airport. A nephew of Henry Segerstrom, Moriarty founded the winery in 1998, carving out a terraced vineyard with gardens, two koi ponds, and an aviary. This year he released his 2010 Unobtainium Meritage Red, the first estate wine ever bottled in Orange County. Try his fruit-forward, age-worthy Bordeaux-style reds in his 1,000-squarefoot wine cave. $35 to $60. 2128 Mesa Drive, Newport Beach, 949-500-0273;

Sodaro Estate Winery
Don Sodaro, owner of a hotel management company, and wife Deedee moved to Newport Beach in 1966, and founded their Napa winery in 1998. His roots in wine run deep: Grandfather Giuseppe was a cooper in Sicily. The Sodaros make only a handful of reds, all estate-grown Bordeaux varietals. $55 to $75. Available by appointment at the tasting room, 24 Blue Oak Lane, Napa, 707-251-8216; and

Hundred Acre
Chris Radomski of Laguna Beach and Napa partner Jayson Woodbridge achieved cult cab-dom with this label: perfect Parker scores and a two-year wait for bottles priced at $300. Feeling guilty, they introduced the Layer Cake line, foreignproduced affordables from $10 to $14. And a cheeky $20 Italian red blend, If You See Kay.

B Cellars
Jim Borsack and fellow wine lover Duffy Keys started a winery headquartered in San Juan Capistrano in 2003, enlisting winemaker Kirk Venge, and producing mostly reds from such storied vineyards as To Kalon and Stagecoach. With scores in the mid-90s, their wines are pricey: $37 for a sauvignon blanc with papaya and citrus notes, skyrocketing to $165 for an aromatic cabernet with coffee and spice accents. At the tasting room, 400 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, 707-709-8787; and

Orange Coast Winery 
Temecula vintners Doug and Debbie Wiens swept into Newport Beach in October 2011 with a tasting room open Friday through Sunday. The couple use fruit primarily from Temecula and Lodi for Wiens Family Wines and their Orange Coast label. Their 2008 Beach Blend Reserve, a full-bodied red blend, won silver at this year’s OC Fair. $18 to $45. At the tasting room, 869 W. 16th St., Newport Beach, 949-645-0400, and

Giracci Vineyard & Farms
Nestled in this 10-acre vineyard and equestrian center in Santiago Canyon, a genteel tasting room with dark wood bar, inviting fireplace, and friendly servers symbolizes the vintners’ ardor for the vine. “It’s like I’m sitting in Napa or Tuscany,” says owner Linda Grace. She and husband Chad Kearns, below, who also own a healthcare business, source fruit from their estate and the Central Coast. Don’t miss their chocolaty 2009 syrah, a double gold medalist at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. $18 to $29. 16162 Jackson Ranch Road, Silverado, 714-602-1109;

Mona and Walter Babcock, owners of Seal Beach seafooder Walt’s Wharf, founded their Santa Ynez Valley winery in 1978. Son Bryan became their winemaker, winning his first gold medals in 1984. He’s now working on a portfolio of pinots from the Santa Rita Hills called Terroir Extraordinaire. His vibrant chardonnays pair well with the oakgrilled barramundi at mom and pop’s restaurant. $9 to $60. At Walt’s Wharf, 201 Main St., Seal Beach; and the tasting room, 5175 State Route 246, Lompoc, 805-736-1455; and

Hammersky Vineyard & Inn 
Newport Beach dentist Doug Hauck bought a picturesque Paso winery, turned its farmhouse into an inn, then added a barn and tasting room. It’s a sought-after spot for bold bottlings and wine country weddings. The salmon-tinted rosé and golden viognier offer rich fruit; 2009 Party of Four and 2009 Red- Handed Meritage reflect Hauck’s “Bordeauxcentric” philosophy. $28 to $50. At the tasting room, 7725 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles, 805- 239-0930; and

Coniglio Wines
Santa Ana importer Charles E. Coniglio decided to make vino without moving to wine country. In 2001, he and son Steven became partners in a Napa winery with a vision that’s fiercely boutique. “We don’t want to be in Cost Plus,” he says. They produce full-bodied, concentrated reds from renowned vineyards: Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain, Atlas Peak, and Oakville. $40 to $60. At 888-726-6796, and

Bianchi Winery and Tasting Room
The late Joseph Bianchi toyed with canned wine. Son Glenn purchased 40 acres in Paso Robles and now Glenn’s son Beau is president of sales and marketing for the winery, headquartered in Newport Beach. Bianchi makes good-value reds but we prefer its whites, especially a fruity sauvignon blanc and a snappy sparkler. $15 to $40. At the tasting room, 3380 Branch Road, Paso Robles, 805-226-9922; and

Levendi Winery
Newport Beach developers James and David Gianulias named their family winery after a Greek toast that celebrates life. Respected winemaker Alison Green Doran styles full-flavored chardonnays and deeply structured cabernets from Stagecoach and Sweetwater Ranch vineyards. The winery is in Napa, but Levendi wine club members have a home away from home in Costa Mesa at Antonello Ristorante’s Levendi Room, where they enjoy tasting events. $30 to $70. At 877-538-3634; and

Soliste Cellars
Claude Koeberle and wife Elisabeth of Irvine went into the wine business with friends Donald and Beth Plumley. Soliste bottles chardonnay, pinot noir, and other varietals on the Sonoma coast, according to Koeberle’s vision. Born in Lyon, Koeberle says he’s inspired by legendary vintners such as the late Didier Dagueneau. His luminescent sauv blanc, Lune et Soleil 2011, shows classic Sancerre qualities. $22 to $75. At Marché Moderne at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or by joining the mailing list at 707-206-1538 or

Pozzuoli Vineyard & Winery
A white, curved bar, a high-tech enomatic wine dispenser, and contemporary Italian decor surprise visitors to this winery in a Tustin business park. Architect and vintner Enrico Pozzuoli offers wine enthusiasts an oasis at his tasting room with bottling facilities and a barrel room. He and wife Daniela own 12 acres in Paso Robles, crafting wines with an Italian accent. Their 2010 Hog Canyon Red blends cabernet and primitivo with hints of blueberry and mint. The 2010 Bianco marries viognier and sauvignon blanc; the scent of this enchanting dinner wine is like perfume. $18 to $24. 15481 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, 714-258-8817;


Drink Local
Orange County markets and specialty stores that carry wines by local vintners

A Market
Newport Beach

Amazing Grapes
Rancho Santa Margarita

Bacchus Secret Cellar Irvine

Hannah’s Restaurant & bar
Rancho Santa Margarita

Hi-Time Wine Cellars
Costa Mesa

Irvine Ranch Market
Costa Mesa

Juliette Kitchen & Bar
Newport Beach

Main Street Wine Company
Huntington Beach

Marbella farmers  Market
San Juan Capistrano

Rolfs Wine
Newport Beach

Wine Exchange

Wine Gallery
Corona del Mar

Wine Lab
Costa Mesa and Newport Beach

Young’s Market
Santa Ana and Tustin


Among the Best 
Hundred Acre’s Cherry Pie Pinot Noir 2010 bursts with mouthwatering cherry notes. $50

HammerSky’s Red Handed 2009 Bordeaux blend combines cinnamon scents and sturdy tannins. $49

Levendi’s Red Hen Chardonnay 2009 balances fig, pineapple, and just enough oak. $25


This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue.

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