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Unfiltered: Napa's Copia Shuts Its Doors, for Now at Least

Plus: Drinking wine to feed hungry children and an Elvis sighting in Paso Robles

Posted: November 26, 2008

• For those who have been following the decade-long saga of Copia, this past Friday's closing of the high-profile cultural center came as less of a surprise than it did to patrons who reportedly showed up for the Friday night film series, tickets in hand, according to the Napa Valley Register. A sign on the front door claims the closing is only temporary, but Copia has been limping along financially for years. Copia: The American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts got its start in downtown Napa back in 1996, and the late Robert Mondavi provided much of its early funding. Opened two months after Sept. 11, 2001, the non-profit center has seemed jinxed since the beginning. It never drew the expected number of visitors, and those who did attend often left disappointed. It changed staff and direction frequently.

By early 2008, the center's debt load was becoming a strain. Earlier this month, the center's management said it hoped to sell the center and its 12 acres along Napa River and lease back a portion of the space. "The current economic crisis has made it difficult to obtain capital," Copia's interim chief executive, Garry McGuire, said. "Temporarily suspending Copia's operations will protect the interests of our employees by securing their wages while we negotiate a go-forward plan."

The irony, of course, is that Copia has inspired massive growth of restaurants, luxury hotels, wine tasting rooms and upscale shops in the surrounding downtown area. Unfiltered hopes for the best, but regardless of whether Copia reopens or not, it will always be remembered as another of Mondavi's long list of legacies.

• While Sally Struthers probably won't be sending you any letters from impoverished children, there is a way to help fight childhood hunger while enjoying a glass of wine at the same time. Share Our Strength, a non-profit organization that helps fight childhood hunger in the United States, is collaborating on a new wine brand with California winery Clos LaChance and WineStyles, a retail franchise. Aptly named Collaboration, the line includes a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant meritage blend and a Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend. Both wines carry a Central Coast appellation. The winery and franchise are donating 10 percent of the retail price to Share Our Strength, which also hosts a series of culinary fund-raising events to help support its mission. We haven't tried the wines yet, but Unfiltered toasts any brand willing to give a hand to those in need.

• California Central Coast winemaker Stillman Brown is one warped Elvis fan. "If [Elvis] drank wine instead of popping pills," Brown says, "he'd still be alive, and playing Vegas this week." Brown won the annual Syrah Shootout at the Hospice du Rhône in Paso Robles earlier this year with his Elvis Presley-themed wine La Mort du Roi. The label was surprisingly approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau despite its depiction of an absurdist painting titled Elvis Died for Your Sins, which features Presley in a prescription pill-strewn Graceland bathroom. "I don't think they were looking too closely at the artwork," Brown surmises. Brown only made a few cases of the 2005 La Mort du Roi, which have already sold out, so try not to be hound dog if you were hoping to cash in on the next Marilyn Merlot.

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