The Godmother: Eleanor Coppola ? Author, Artist & Filmmaker

Eleanor CoppolaSmartly dressed and looking younger than a woman enjoying her seventies, Eleanor Coppola is a portrait of poise. When it’s suggested that she’s the de facto grand dame of Sonoma County’s wine scene?given the epic, family-friendly winery and resort that bears her husband’s name in Geyserville?she doesn’t take the bait.

Eleanor Coppola is far too grounded and earnest to be susceptible to such platitudes. A few moments with her and one realizes she’s not someone interested in the limelight so much as, say, the use of quicklime lighting in 19th-century theater. As an artist, she has more practical concerns. Chiefly, what’s next? Continue reading “The Godmother: Eleanor Coppola ? Author, Artist & Filmmaker”

Emmy Kaplan: Patr?n of the Arts

Emmy Kaplan

For Emmy Kaplan, the proprietress of both the San Francisco and Sonoma, California iterations of Emmy?s Spaghetti Shack, the secret ingredient to a good cocktail is ?freshness.? Fear not for Emmy?s punk rock cred, however, a favorite among Bay Area musicians, artists and foodies alike, the Shack (as it?s colloquially known) has not been Michael Pollan-ized. Simply put, Kaplan and her staff don?t believe in mixing good booze with so-so mixers. To avoid doing so, they make their own with seasonal ingredients sourced from artisanal providers instead of agribusiness.

DH: ?So far as I can tell, your rules are ?Don?t use frozen purees or pre-made syrups, triple sec is verboten and stay seasonal whenever possible.??

EK: ?Work off what?s available. If Meyer lemons are in lemon season, make a killer lemon compote, or lemon puree.?

DH: ?Sounds like a farmers market in a glass.?

EK: ?It could be considered a farmers market in a glass, although we do like to do it a little more eccentric than your classic farmers market might. There wouldn?t just be peach, it would be peach with something you wouldn?t think peach would go well with. Instead of peach and mint, consider peach and basil. Don?t be typical.?

DH: ?What about sustainable??

EK: ?We try to be as sustainable as possible for the price. We don?t want to go overboard.? We don?t want our specialty drinks to be more than $9.?

DH: ?What will nine bucks get you??

EK:? ?The Emmy?s Berry Margarita made with Patr?n for one. We worked a long time making sure we had the proper berries. Again, it depends on what?s in season. Sometimes the raspberries are better, sometimes the blackberries are better ??you could do blueberries or a mixture of all of the berries. The other great thing about using good ingredients and forgoing products like triple sec that have a lot of sugar is that you can avoid a lot of hangovers, which are caused, in part, by the excessive sugar.?

DH: ?I thought hangovers were caused by excessive drinking.?

EK: ?If you make the simple syrup yourself, boil it down, you don?t get as bad of a hangover. You don?t need to over sweeten it. You just need a little bit of sugar. If it?s good liquor want to taste it, if it?s a martini or a margarita, you want to taste the vodka or tequila, that?s the whole point. If you?re going to put triple sec in your margarita, in my opinion, you shouldn?t be using top-shelf liquor.?

DH: ?I hear you have a ?secret menu.? What?s on it??

EK: ?It?s a secret.?

DH: ?What?s the protocol one has to enact to receive the secret menu??

EK: ?They have to make friends with us, they have to get in good, be friendly and bring their family in and we?ll surprise them every once and a while.?

DH: ?You got a tequila joke??

EK: ?It?s an old one. A guy sits at a bar in a high-rise ??like the Equinox in San Francisco.?

DH: ?That?s the restaurant on top of the Hyatt that spins. Great place if you?re afraid of heights and merry-go-rounds.?

EK: ?So, the guy next to him, slams a shot of tequila, opens a window and jumps. Five minutes later, he?s back and totally fine. The guy at the bar is shocked. He says ?How did you do that?? The guy who jumped is totally wasted and says that he doesn?t know, just that after he slams tequila and jumps out the window, at the last second the tequila suspends him above the ground.?

DH: ?It has the exact opposite effect on me.?

EK: ?Listen. The jumper does it again ? orders a shot, slams it and jumps out the window and come back unscathed. So, the guy at the bar is so impressed he insists on trying it too. He orders a shot, jumps out the window and ? wait for it ??splat! It?s over. The bartender looks at the other guy and says, ?You?re a real a?hole when you?re drunk, Superman.?

DH: ?So, the moral of the story is don?t try this with the Emmy?s Berry Margarita.?

EK: ?Unless you?re Superman.?

Emmy?s Berry Margarita with Patr?n

1 ? ounces of Patr?n Silver

? an ounce of Cointreau

? a squeezed fresh, organic lemon

? a squeezed fresh, organic lime

1 tablespoon organic berry compote

Generous splash of simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, boiled and chilled)

In a pint glass brimming with ice, pour the above contents, shake and strain into a sugar-rimmed martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge or with a raspberry or blackberry or all the above.

A version of this article appeared in Patterson’s Tasting Panel Magazine.

Hollywood and Vines

Burn Hollywood, burn.
Burn Hollywood, burn.

Though I had moved to Hollywood from the Bay Area in the early part of this century I remained a stringer for the San Francisco Chronicle (the ink in my veins apparently outshone the stars in my eyes). My contributions amounted to a handful of celebrity interviews (I specialized in what we called “Blisters,” a contraction of “B” and “list”) and annual coverage of the then- “Sonoma Valley Film Festival.” Every April meant a week basking in the Wine Country and ruing my inevitable return to LA. They were the best of times, they were the worst of times – I bet. “The purple haze all in my brain,” I attribute to some choice vintages from the Sonoma Valley appellation and, um, you know, the power of cinema.

The Chron articles were “advances,” pabulum constructed around the festival program bolstered with an occasional blister quote, and filed prior to my arrival in wine-soaked Sonoma. To wit, I’d struggle to paraphrase my lead from the previous year while sequestered in some studio commissary or other – counting down the days until my Sonoma sojourn. Invariably, the pieces would open with clumsy attempts at entendre like “Wine, women and film,” or card houses built on “pinot noir” and “film noir” and iffy references to Orson Welles’ sad end as a Paul Masson pitchman: “We shall sell no wine until I get my residual.”

Regardless, once the words were arranged in some semblance of English, all I had to do was remember the numbers 10-405-5-580-680-780-80-37-121-12 – the freeways, highways and occasional interstates I had to navigate from LA to Sonoma. I’d later realize the sequence was the locker combination to my heart. Sigh.

Upon arrival, I’d locate the press will-call, endure the bane of my byline with the poor volunteer thumbing through the credentials (this usually resulted in a 30-second course in Greek mythology) and accept a press kit that would remain on the floor of my car for the next six months in a nest of empty water bottles and coffee cups.

//

Two beats later, I’d begin carousing with colleagues past, present and future – promise to see their films, forget, wakeup wine-stained and wretched, reintroduce myself as necessary, then wash, rinse and repeat. For years.

The past three fests, mercifully, my wife has made sure that I see at least a few films (it apparently slows the momentum of merlot). She does everything short of pinning the number of Verne’s Taxi and our address on my lapel. Seeing as Raymond Scott Daigle and I have a couple of flicks in the fest this year, I have to at least keep my head together for the Q&A that follows (lest I say Daigle is “my monkey” again in public, which, for some reason, he’s not too keen on).

Of course, I had some practice with my cinematic patter last Friday, when, after an evening out with in-house music maven J.M. Berry enjoying the generosity at Glen Ellen’s Saffron, I had to get myself together the following morning and wend over the Oakville Grade to a press luncheon at Rubicon Estates.

I was an hour late, hung over and unaware that I’d be dining a few seats down from director Francis Ford Coppola. Suffice it to say, the “hair of the dog” poured before me came from a purebred of the finest pedigree, breeding and doggy finishing school – the 2005 Rubicon Estate cabernet. Permit me this indulgence: “I love the smell of Napa in the morning.”

Coppola was a gracious host and astutely observed the “Joyce” reference in my name (I spared him the Greek mythology lesson). Fortunately, I had caught the eye of a field producer from CNN who was doing a segment on Coppola and requested an on-camera tête-à-tête with me before my fanboy switch tripped and I began asking arcane questions about “The Godfather.”

I obliged the producer and, thanks to years working up gags for the Chron, I was able to sound vaguely coherent about Coppola’s films and wine.

Except for, perhaps, the part about “my monkey.”

Closet Case: Andre Benjamin

It's the man that makes the clothes.
It's the man that makes the clothes.

Andre Benjamin, rapper, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and actor, perhaps best known by his nom-de-music Andre 3000 in the group OutKast, can add a new gig to his resume: fashion designer. Last Fall, Benjamin launched his Benjamin Bixby line, inspired by American college football culture circa 1935. He took a moment to speak editor Daedalus Howell about the nature of fashion, costume and what we might expect from his Spring line.

Daedalus Howell: How is it that you?ve come to arrive, finally, at a branded fashion line? Has this always been part of the career trajectory that you have seen for yourself?? Did you know you were going to experiment with this?

Andre Benjamin: Didn?t know. It didn?t come until becoming the Outkast brand, then that gave me the stage to do shows and tours and things like that, and then people started to pay attention to the styles. That gave me a stage to design, and at that point, I decided to start this company, which is now Benjamin Bixby.

DH: Yeah, and that?s a really cool name. I like the line, too.

AB: Thank you, thank you. I?m glad you like it.

DH: Where does the line get drawn between costume and fashion? In many ways, it seems that you evolved from costume into fashion.

AB: Right, right. Once again, it?s the story. When I?m designing, I?m designing for a character. So, a lot of times, these pieces, they may end up looking like a costume from that movie, that I?m designing. But I do expect the Benjamin Bixby customer to mix and match. I wouldn?t expect you to wear the complete outfit. You may find a sweater, I mean, somebody could pull it off, but when I look internationally, what we?re seeing from the Lookbook and that kind of thing, we want to do a strong, strong, strong image. We went extreme with it. So we may look custom, but when you break it down to the separates, you can pair it with whatever.

DH: Still, you can tell that it?s a Benjamin Bixby piece of apparel. It is that distinct no matter what you mix it with.

AB: Right.

DH: It seems that you focused right into 1935, sort of the collegiate look, or East Coast. What drove you to that particular style? It?s very distinct.

AB: Pictures, and me knowing that I would be hitting stores for fall/winter collections. I?m a huge football fan, for one. Doing my research, I?d see these pictures of these early 1900s Notre Dame pictures, and I was like, ?I?ve never seen anybody design these football jerseys.? I want this, but I can?t buy it. So I want to design it. I want to make it, make it my own. That was one of the first pieces, so you build around this character. What would this character wear on the football field? What would he wear off the field? What would he wear in the dorm room? What would his coach wear? So you kind of build this little adventure. So, it came from a lot of pictures, pictures in books.

DH: So you visualize a character, and then you see their attire and sort of project an era.

AB: A character, or just a story. What would you be wearing for different events in this story? Going for different scenes, basically. To me, it?s an experience company. I want to be able to tell stories, because I believe that is our fashion. I?m not in fashion in the sense of ?high fashion,? like a guy who would design a shirt sleeve longer than the other [laughs]. I respect it, I really do, but I?m based on the classics. So, my thing that changes every season is these adventures, these stories, these characters.

DH: I get accused of having what?s been called an ?action-figure outfit? because I generally have on a blazer and jeans, or some permutation, so if I was going to be an action-figure, I?d probably have to have that kind of get-up.

AB: [laughing)] I?ve never heard of that!

DH: Well, I mean everybody kind of has an action-figure outfit.

AB: Yeah, that?s true. I mean, that?s your style, your personal style.

DH: So, would the Benjamin Bixby line be your action-figure style?

[pause]

AB: No, because it changes. I mean, my action figure would come with the whole closet. [both laugh] It would look different, you know? That?s the thing. I want people to come and look at the Benjamin Bixby stage almost like Benjamin Bixby was a movie director. Some people are in to Steven Spielberg. What he puts out, they come, and I want people to come to the Benjamin Bixby show to see what?s coming season to season, and if you can buy your Star Wars shirt from George Lucas, that?s like our movie. This is the story we?re telling. One time, I was actually thinking about making the labels where it was ?Benjamin Bixby, Directed By.? So it was like these little movies, but there?s just too many f—ing syallables. [both laugh] The label was just too long.

DH: That?s a nice way to extend a metaphor throughout the entire thing. It gives you a real sense of what you?re trying to achieve by giving people the means to sort of explore aspects of themselves by being a character. Some people need the freedom to be a certain way.

AB: Everybody, well, I won?t say everybody, but most people dream about something else. Even if it?s intangible things like women dreaming of being a princess, or some dude might dream of being a f—ing pirate.

DH: Or a princess.

AB: [laughter] Some men do, but imagine if you could go to a movie and you saw something in a movie and you said, ?Man, that sweater is dope.? Then you leave the movie theater and go to a store and you find that sweater.

DH: Right, and take a little bit with you. Dude, when I saw that last James Bond movie, I hadn?t been affected by a movie like that since I was a kid, and I said, ?I want to get a tux.? [laugh]

AB: Right! See? It?s that thing, man. You know, we dream, man, and that?s what it?s all about. Dreaming and adventure, and I just want to make theses little stories and I want to know what it?s like. I?ve never ever been to India, but for spring/summer, it?s this colonial Indian thing. What would you wear? So that?s the thing.

Gary Vaynerchuk: Wine’s Brand Man

Despite the media credentials I was granted, I somehow I managed to miss the Wine Bloggers Conference 08, hosted this October in Sonoma County?s Santa Rosa, California. No worries, the conference?s main attraction was video wine blogger and marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk of WineLibraryTV.com with whom I recently had a chat for FineLife Sonoma Magazine.

Vaynerchuk makes some astute observations on the notion of personal-branding (which always sounds to me like some 1990s? body modification trend, after tattoos, piercing and scarification, but before amputation). The essential soundbites: “You are your own differentiator” and “Execute on your DNA” (to the untrained ear, this sounds less like marketing genius than eugenics-for-one, but trust me, it’s actionable advice).

Have a listen…

[audio:http://lumaville.com/podcast/DH-Pod-GaryVaynerchuk.mp3]

Tim Zahner of the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau (the gent who kindly dubbed me “Sonoma County Lifestyle Ambassador”), had FilmArt3 pop in for a quikie send-up Vaynerchuk’s schtick as part of a tribute dinner the SCTB hosted at the conference. The result is eerily compelling.