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A Copia Icon Lives On

Napa's Copia Center is long shuttered, but the statue of André Tchelistcheff that stood at its door may soon find a new home
Photo by: Eric Risberg/AP/Corbis
This bronze statue of André Tchelistcheff greeted thousands of visitors to Copia.

Posted: Apr 11, 2012 3:30pm ET

A life-size statue of André Tchelistcheff may be on the market. If I had $1 million, I'd bid on it. Seriously.

It could be auctioned as part of the liquidation of the bankrupt Copia, which begins with sales at the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts' gift shop this weekend and culminates in two days of auctions April 20 and 21. 

It will be an estate sale of unparalleled scope and value, at least here in Napa.

I consider Mr. T perhaps the most influential man in Napa Valley history, right up there alongside Robert Mondavi. Though André the Great has been dead for two decades, winemakers still speak of him in reverential terms.

One could write a book about his contributions to wine. But today I'll just mention a few of the ways Tchelistcheff stood out.

When he came to California in 1938 to work for Beaulieu Vineyard, the wine industry was in a state of disarray. (Tchelistcheff was born in Russia and studied winemaking in France; Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour hired him after the two were introduced in Paris.)

Wineries had been closed for a decade during Prohibition, and cellars and wines were still terribly flawed. Vintners were essentially bankrupt, as were many during the Great Depression. Tchelistcheff immediately indentified areas of improvement for the California wine industry, and his insistence that winemakers had to clean up their cellars became a crusade. For that, they called him the Doctor.

He was a farmer first, however, and got his greatest satisfaction from walking the vineyards. He taught an entire generation about the importance of viticulture. He mentored dozens of young winemakers, including Robert Mondavi.

The wines he made at BV have become legendary, from the 1946 and 1947 Pinots to the long parade of great BV Private Reserves from 1936 into the 1970s. He talked about making Cabernets that had the texture of Pinot Noir, supple and fleshy. For that, they called him the Maestro.

There's no telling what the bronze likeness of Tchelistcheff, which greeted each visitor to Copia, is worth in terms of auction value, but as a one-of-a-kind tribute to a one-of-a-kind winemaker—perhaps the most important in American history—the Tchelischeff statue is priceless in the eyes of this Napa wine lover.

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  April 11, 2012 7:11pm ET
Shouldn't the Golitzin family of Quilceda Creek buy the statue? What better way to honor their relative?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  April 11, 2012 7:32pm ET
Troy, nice angle, but think Andre needs to stay in Napa...
Scott Creasman
Atlanta, GA —  April 12, 2012 11:20am ET
Is Alexander Valley (Jordan) too far away?
John Petrick
Louisville —  April 12, 2012 1:13pm ET
As they say, home is where the heart is. Would it not be fitting for a corporate conscience to step up and bring the statue back to the grounds of Beaulieu?
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  April 12, 2012 3:13pm ET
Quilceda could buy it and choose to keep it in Napa. Maybe put ol' Andre next to the "Welcome to Napa" sign! Or he could welcome everyone at the wine train entrance. Seriously! I do lock John's idea the best though.
William Smith
St. Helena, California —  April 12, 2012 5:12pm ET
Jim,
Good news! The Andre Tchelistcheff Statue will be staying in Napa and coming back to Beaulieu Vineyard. Actually, Diageo owns the statue and had given permission for Copia to display it to the community before it’s bankruptcy. As such, the Statue has been removed from the auction.
Jim Gallagher
San Francisco —  April 12, 2012 11:41pm ET
Bummer!
Steve Balmuth
San Clemente, CA —  April 14, 2012 2:43pm ET
As I recall, Andre always tasted wines with a cigarette in his hand. He was never without that cigarette.

Also remember tasting the 1936 BV Private Reserve at the Heublein Auctions during the early '80s.

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