The 15th of December is approaching and a real craze has already spread among all Star Wars fans in the UK, where the mid-month premiere of the seventh episode, “The Force Awakens”, will even predate the U.S. release.
So far, Star Wars is arguably George Lucas’ most important creature. However, in the beginning George did not foresee the astonishing success of his production: in 1976, when the first saga episode was still being filmed, his friend Steven Spielberg was about to release Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg maintained that Star Wars would beat his own movie at the box office; on the opposite, Lucas believed that Encounters would outsize Star Wars. So, the two made a bet: the director of the highest earning movie would give the other 2.5% of his proceedings from the film. Eventually, the bet would cost Lucas over 40 million dollars, as his own feature grossed much more than the other’s. Had his initial hesitation anything do with the fact of being born in a Californian town named “Modesto”?
Cinema is not the only passion borne by this legendary film producer. His luxurious ranch in Marin County, California, is a wonderful #Wine estate with 1,061 acres of fields and vineyards. Unsurprisingly, he named the property “Skywalker Vineyards”.
George Lucas’ interest for wine originated in his childhood, when the fragrance of fermenting grapes permeated the air of the small Central Valley and the local community was heavily influenced by the culture of grape growing and wine making.
However, it was the successful experience of his friend Francis Ford Coppola, the director of The Godfather saga and Apocalypse Now, which prompted Lucas to start vineyard plantings in 1991.
Using a portion of the large profits from The Godfather, in 1976 Coppola had bought 1,560 acres of the Inglenook winery, the estate founded in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum in the Napa Valley.
The wine business became then an economic lifeline for Coppola. He started with fine wines but eventually moved to the productions of mass-market wines in the 90es, when the success of Bram Stoker’s Dracula allowed him to enlarge significantly the estate, making Coppola the biggest single-owner of wineries in California. Most of his current wealth derives from wine production - more than from film-making.
For George Lucas is a completely different story. The wine business has always been perceived more as a divertissement, also considering that he never really endured any financial difficulty during his film career.
After partnering on films with American Graffiti in 1973, two decades after Lucas and Coppola started a joint-venture also in the wine business: “The current release by Bay Area film directors Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas is a $30 Chardonnay made at Coppola's winery from grapes grown at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. A $40 Merlot is due out this summer” stated a press release of the time.
Skywalker’s Vineyards still produces various wines under the brand “Viandante del Cielo”, literally meaning “Sky walker” in Italian. One of the most renowned is The Sommità Pinot Noir, made from grapes produced from the Skywalker Vineyard high on a ridge in Marin County. “These grapes are harvested by hand, berry selected, and then loaded by gravity into the fermenting tanks” – says Scott McLeod, the winemaker at Skywalker Vineyards, who has previously worked for 18 years as Director of Winemaking for the Coppolas in Napa Valley and had also a long experience in the Italian region of Chianti. “The Viandante Del Cielo Pinot is stored for 14 months and is subsequently removed from the barrel and bottled, in an unfined and unfiltered status”.
Considered such a connection between American wines and pictures, Francis Ford Coppola deserves to be quoted: “Winemaking & Filmmaking are two of California's great art forms”.