About 1,300 vintners, wine lovers and supporters attended the June 1 groundbreaking for the $70 million museum and cultural center, scheduled to open in the fall of 2001. Extensive gardens and orchards will surround an impressive 80,000-square-foot main building, designed out of native stone, tile and glass by Polshek Partnership Architects of New York.
Set on a 13-acre site overlooking the Napa River, the American Center is situated in an urban part of Napa Valley that most tourists never see when traveling to wine country. Local officials and merchants hope the complex -- which is expected to draw 300,000 visitors annually to its restaurant, classes, exhibition galleries, public gardens and two performance stages -- will revitalize flagging downtown commerce.
"I dreamed of giving something back to my country," said Mondavi, who has donated $20 million to the project, which will celebrate American contributions to wine, food, humanities and the arts. The 85-year-old vintner hopes the American Center will serve both as an educational forum and a cultural showcase.
Back in 1988, Mondavi envisioned a small wine and culinary arts center as an extension of his Napa Valley winery. The idea grew to its current dimensions with the support of other local vintners and growers, including Shari and Garen Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard, Martha May of Martha's Vineyard and Eleanor Coppola of Niebaum-Coppola Winery -- all of whom were present at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Despite its Napa location, the center will have a broader geographical focus, highlighting wineries throughout California and other regions of the United States. To illustrate this point, a luncheon following the groundbreaking ceremony offered wines from some 15 different regions, including Sonoma Valley, the Central Coast, Amador and Mendocino Counties, Oregon and Washington.
"I see this center as eventually having satellites in Europe and throughout the world," said trustee Allen Shoup, president and CEO of the Washington-based Stimson Lane winery group that includes Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest.
Shoup's optimistic vision is perhaps premature. Currently, $40 million has been raised, but that is only slightly more than half of the money needed to complete the original project. Fundraising efforts will continue through membership drives and other financing strategies. According to another trustee, Los Angeles investment broker Joseph Wender, additional funds will soon be raised through a bond issue. "Borrowing through the bond will assure construction," he said.
United States congressman and Napa native Mike Thompson, who was on hand for the occasion, enthusiastically predicted, "It will not only be the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts. It will be America's center. This will put us over the top."
The American Center
1700 Soscol Avenue, Suite 1
Napa, Calif. 94559
Phone: (707) 257-3606
Fax: (707) 257-8601
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions