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Eleanor Coppola, Filmmaker Who Helped Rebuild Inglenook Winery’s Legacy, Dies at 82

Eleanor “Ellie” Coppola passed away April 12 at the age of 87 in her home in Rutherford, California. Eleanor was a visual artist, author and film director who was married for 61 years to filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Together with her husband, she also helped restore Napa’s legendary Inglenook winery.

“Surrounded by creativity and fame, Eleanor quietly created her own galaxy of stars through her children, her documentaries, art, design and fashion, books, and her own feature films,” vintner and friend Robin Lail told Wine Spectator. “Her friendship was embracing, enhancing and treasured. Wherever Ellie was, there was a dash of sunlight. Ellie was extraordinary, complex and always to be remembered with joy and awe.”

In 1975, the Coppolas were searching for a vacation cottage in Napa Valley and ended up purchasing a portion of what had been the historic Inglenook estate, founded in 1879 by Lail’s great grand-uncle. The Coppolas spent decades reuniting the original vineyards as parcels went up for sale, acquiring the former winery itself in 1995. In 2011, they purchased the Inglenook trademark, reuniting the name with the estate.

In 2019, Eleanor Coppola told Wine Spectator, “I met [Robin] a bit after we moved into our home in the valley in 1977. As I learned about the history of our property and the Daniel family, I realized, through a quirk of fate, that I was living in the home she grew up in and assumed would one day be hers.”

Wine Was an Inspiration for Coppola

Coppola loved nature and had a passion for organic farming inspired by her friendship with Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters. In 1994, the winery became one of the first wine estates in Napa Valley to be certified organic.

Wine also inspired her filmmaking. In 2017, she told Wine Spectator, “There’s so many films out there that cover such dark subjects that I just wanted a film that you can go in to enjoy, and you come out hungry and wanting a nice glass of wine.”

With that inspiration, at the age of 80 she released her first narrative feature film, Paris Can Wait. Starring Diane Lane, it was loosely based on a Frenchman-guided journey to Paris that Coppola herself once took. “I really wanted to show the different aspects of French food paired with the wines of the regions,” Coppola said at the time.

A Life and Family of Arts

Born in 1936 in Los Angeles, Coppola grew up in Southern California and attended UCLA, where she received a degree in applied design. After graduation, she created fabric collages and stitchery murals for architectural installations and began teaching design classes at UCLA while also pursuing graduate studies. In 1962, she was invited to Ireland to work as an assistant art director on the low-budget Dementia 13, the first feature film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Ellie and Francis worked together, fell in love and were married the following year.

[article-img-container][src=2024-04/ns_coppolas-wine-experience-041524_1600.jpg] [credit= (Shannon Sturgis)] [alt= Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola at Wine Spectator’s 2015 New York Wine Experience.][end: article-img-container]

Their work overlapped; while living in the Philippines during the making of her husband’s 1979 classic Apocalypse Now, Eleanor shot Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, a critically acclaimed, Emmy award–winning documentary about the making of the film. Their children also followed in their cinematic footsteps—older son Gian-Carlo, who passed away in 1986, appeared in multiple films; Roman has directed several movies and collaborated with Wes Anderson; and Sofia is an acclaimed director of films including Lost in Translation and Priscilla, the latter of which she dedicated to her mother.

Eleanor made other behind-the-scenes documentaries about films directed by her family, most recently editing a look at the making of Sofia’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette.

Coppola’s drawings, photos and conceptual art pieces have been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. She also designed costumes for ODC/Dance, a contemporary dance company based in San Francisco. She published two books, Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now (1979) and Notes on a Life (2008).

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