Corey Beck had worked for the Francis Ford Coppola Winery for two decades when the filmmaker/vintner tapped him as CEO in February. In his new executive role, Beck will oversee the Coppola Winery, Virginia Dare Winery, Great Women Spirits and Cafe Zoetrope, all of which fall under the umbrella of the celebrated filmmaker.
“It wasn’t like I was walking into a new company and had to learn the culture; in fact, I’ve spent the last 20 years helping define our culture,” Beck said of the Geyserville company where he previously served as head winemaker and president. “Since I don’t have to spend time figuring out how to get things done, all of us can focus on making the changes necessary for sustainable growth.”
Beck says his grandfather first piqued his interest in wine while he worked under him at the Chateau Montelena winery in nearby Calistoga.
“He was there at the time of the winery’s famous win at the Paris Tasting,” he said of the 1976 event that experts say put California on the map in international winemaking.
“He gave me my first job driving a tractor,” Beck said of his forebear.
The respect earned among his colleagues while at Chateau Montelena followed him when he joined Coppola’s business in 1998. Beck even served as a president of the Sonoma County Vintners and was named one of the “Top 50 Leaders” by “Wine Business Magazine” in 2016.
Perhaps such accolades allowed him to start thinking about bucking entrenched viticulture orthodoxy.
“Fifteen years ago, with Sofia wines, we put wine in a can, and many people thought we were crazy,” Beck said of the product named in honor of Sofia Coppola, Francis’ daughter and, like her father, a filmmaker.
The risky move paid off, however. “Wine Industry Advisor” reports the canned wine sector accounted for $14.5 million in 2017 alone — a 170 percent rise over the longer-tenured box wine category’s seemingly paltry 6 percent gain. Coppola now sells canned varieties of Blanc de Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.
“I’m very pleased to see these changes because it offers new opportunities for our business to stay relevant with our consumers,” Beck said. “At Francis Ford Coppola Winery, we have an owner who is willing to take risks, such as building a swimming pool at our winery in Geyserville. It is this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that will continue to move us forward.”
The confidence in new leadership is reflected by the winery owner himself, with Coppola releasing a statement upon Beck’s promotion saying his CEO’s “passion for winemaking and dedication to the staff are unmatched.”
It’s an auspicious, yet challenging, time to be heading up a major winery, Beck said, with a consumer base that is more sophisticated and knowledgeable seeking out wines in an ever-more crowded marketplace.
“Consumer behaviors and how they search, buy and consume wine is very different than it was just 18 months ago,” he said. “We’re looking at a unique way of reaching out directly to our consumer—something that’s never been done before,” he said without elaborating.
As important as profit, Beck said, is how The Coppola Family gives back to the community. The brand touted various “trailblazing females” in the wine industry on its Great Women Spirits Instagram and Facebook feeds all throughout Women’s History Month and also ran promotions to support community rebuilding efforts in the wake of last fall’s area wildfires.
“We were overwhelmed with the outreach from our customers as they clearly wanted to help in any way possible,” Beck said, adding that although visitations to the Coppola estate fell off after the blazes, the company has made up for it thanks to online retail.
“When I think of our great industry, I always look back to our founders and how they paved the way for what we have now,” the CEO explained. “I’ve had the pleasure to spend eight years on the Sonoma County Vintners Board, and I appreciate how our board has looked at the bigger picture, such as marketing Sonoma County and, most importantly, charitable giving. Giving back to our communities is one of the most gratifying aspects of my job.”
Beck says the Coppola brand also aims to distinguish itself from its competitors on the spirits side by using water sourced directly from the Coppola Estate in Rutherford.
“I know there aren’t many spirit companies that use Napa Valley water in their spirits,” he said. “For Francis, it’s about creating authentic experiences with quality products, and ultra-premium spirits is another avenue for us to showcase our values.”
Beck said his boss exhibits the same work ethic as a vintner as he has over a filmmaking career spanning a half-century.
“What I’ve learned most about Francis is his strong work ethic and his belief in following your vision, even when others tell you that you can’t do something,” Beck said of the 78-year-old filmmaker, who famously dug in his heels fighting for his artistic vision on “The Godfather” and the notoriously troubled set of “Apocalypse Now.”
“One of the greatest moments in my career was watching the Oscars with Francis and his wife, Eleanor,” Beck said. “Talk about great stories!”
Yet even with a renowned name like his boss’ behind the brand, Beck maintains it is in no way a guarantor of success.
“I’ve often said making wine is the easy part of our business. Once it’s in the bottle, then you have to go and sell it,” he said.