The award-winning line of California-crafted spirits from The Family Coppola not only honors women’s achievements, but they are the products of head distiller Natalie Dale, one of a growing number of women in the distilling industry. Inspired by the great women in his own life, Francis Ford Coppola wanted to shed light on historic women whose stories are not widely told. He chose Dale, his winemaker, to lead the production of Great Women Spirits.
The collection includes Ada Lovelace Gin, crafted in the English style of gins produced in her time and made with Meyer Lemons and rose petals from the Coppola family estate. Recognized as the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace was born in London in 1815 and studied math and science, rare for a woman in that era.
Hypatia Ruby Amaro honors the renowned 4th-century philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer with a spirit made from a secret recipe that includes bitter orange peels, gentian, and pinot noir stems. Dorothy Arzner Straight Rye Whiskey is named for the first female director of a sound film, “Manhattan Cocktail,” in 1928. As a UCLA film teacher after her retirement, Arzner mentored Coppola, encouraging his career in filmmaking.
Eighteenth-century mathematician, philosopher, and prodigy Maria Gaetana Agnesi was the inspiration for Agnesi 1799 Brandy. The Countess Walewska Premium Vodka is named for the Polish patriot and mistress of Napoleon. The Family Coppola website includes details about the lives and achievements of the women as well as specifics about the ingredients of each creation.
Travel + Leisure spoke to Natalie Dale about her role as a winemaker and head distiller during her nearly 10 years with The Family Coppola in Geyserville, California.
Travel + Leisure: Tell us about your transition from winemaker to Head Distiller
Natalie Dale: “There were many new things to learn with distilling, and I really enjoyed the process. The distilling community is so supportive, and everyone genuinely wants you to succeed. I was lucky with my winemaking career to have many female mentors to look to for advice, and every year I meet more women in distilling. They’re a small but mighty force, and most are quietly hustling and making some really interesting things.
My transition has opened the door to a world I knew was out there for me. Distilling is part science and part artistry. You can make wine or beer by accident, but not spirits! Everything has intention and purpose. Like wine, the result is a product for people to enjoy.”
What did you take from your winemaking experience to the distilling process?
“So many things! Winemaking has given me the education in fermentation science, maturation in barrels, and blending. Getting the fermentation right is a huge focus in order to create balanced, agreeable wines. With each vintage, we try to set the bar higher, always trying to do better. Could we have adjusted pH, tried a different oak barrel, or used a different yeast?
One of my favorite parts of winemaking is blending barrels. I’ve been able to take that love of blending and apply it to each of the spirits. That goes for our gin and botanical-forward spirits as well as our barrel-aged ones. I love putting new brandy distillate to barrel. Once it touches that oak, it will never be the same.”
Do you have a favorite among the Great Women Spirits? Or a cocktail you enjoy making with one of them?
“I love the Straight Rye Whiskey. The oak blend is something I’m really proud of. We use a combination of rye, rye malt, and two different specialty malts. There’s a strong rye presence without the typical rye astringency. It has beautiful malt sweetness, chewy rye spice, and warm vanilla oak tones. It’s like dessert for me. I drink it neat.”
What’s next for you?
“I’m finishing a master’s degree in brewing and distilling. I can’t wait to have my weekends back! We also have more creative spirits coming to fruition in the next few years, and I’ll continue to see how I can fine tune our current portfolio of spirits. I’m always thinking of how we can improve on what we’ve done in the past and how we can learn from it.
I’m hoping I can take my experiences and help others out too. Not many people get to do what they love for a living. I know how lucky I am.”