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Copia Opens Its Bounty to the Public

Napa's much-anticipated American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts celebrated its debut with weekend festivities.

Tim Fish
Posted: November 19, 2001

With additional reporting by Daniel Sogg

Robert Mondavi, flanked by wife Margrit Biever Mondavi (left) and Copia director Peggy Loar, has been the driving force behind Copia.
The city of Napa broke bread on Sunday to mark the opening of Copia: The American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts. But it wasn't any old loaf. In this case, it was an eight-foot-long baguette, and vintner Robert Mondavi did the honors, a ribbon cutting of sorts, as thousands waited in line for a first glimpse of the $55 million cultural center, which officially opened its doors today, Nov. 18.

"I've looked forward to this for the past 11 years," said Mondavi, the moving force behind Copia, which is named for the Roman goddess of abundance.

The festivities in downtown Napa began with an old-fashioned small-town parade, complete with marching bands, Girl Scouts and vintage cars, as well a procession of culinary Americana such as the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales.

Welcoming the crowd, Copia director Peggy Loar said, "Without food we cannot survive, without wine we cannot endure and without art we cannot evolve."

It has taken plenty of endurance to make a reality of the impressive 80,000-square-foot museum that sits on 12 acres along the Napa River.

Mondavi, who conceived the idea for Copia in 1988, considered a variety of locations throughout Napa Valley before settling on a site in the city of Napa. When he first proposed the project, many officials within the city and county governments opposed growth.

"But over time we convinced people this could enhance the quality of life, rather than detract from it," said Mondavi, who donated $20 million to get Copia started. "[At the time] nowhere in the world combined wine, food and the arts at one location. I thought that would raise the image of our country and our industry internationally."

Three countries with rich food and wine traditions -- France, Italy and Greece -- sent their ambassadors to the United States to the opening to say a few words. There were plenty of familiar faces on hand, including star chef Julia Child -- who lent her name to Copia's restaurant, Julia's Kitchen -- and film director Francis Ford Coppola, who owns Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery.

"It's a real treat," Coppola said as he toured the center. "The execution seems really first rate."

Copia is a stylishly modern wedge of polished concrete, glass and metal, which includes an interactive museum, classrooms, an art gallery, a theater, demonstration kitchens, the Wine Spectator Tasting Table, where 20 wines from around the world are poured at any given time, and more.

The center is expected to be a significant economic boon for the city of Napa. Traditionally, most wine-country visitors have bypassed the city while focusing on up-valley destinations. But Copia officials estimate that the museum will attract 300,000 visitors per year.

On Sunday, roughly 10,000 people stopped by to tour the facility and its grounds, including 3.5 acres of culinary gardens, which sported white tents for food and wine tastings. Wineries from all over the United States -- including Dalla Valle, Shafer, Gary Farrell and Ponzi -- were offering samples.

Copia's curator of wine, Peter Marks, was racing around the grounds Sunday morning. "We're all set to go," Marks said. "[Monday] is our first day, and the doors open at 10, and at 10:30 we have our first class, 'Wines for Thanksgiving.'"

Meanwhile, inside Copia, the most popular attraction was the interactive exhibition "Forks in the Road: Food, Wine and the American Table." From old kitchen gadgets to a theater showing classic food scenes from movies, there was something for everyone.

At the "Common Scents" table, visitors were asked to identify aromas such as garlic and fresh bread. In the "Feed Us Your Memories" booth, guests recorded videos or watched videos by others discussing a range of food topics. "The strangest meal I ever had," one man said in a recording, "was jellied eels."

Among the visitors were Boyd and Marguerite Hazlett from nearby Petaluma. "I think it's wonderful," said Marguerite, who particularly liked the "Candy Bar Quiz" exhibit, which asked participants to visually identify the inside layers of 20 unwrapped candy bars.

"One woman knew all of them," Boyd said, a dubious look in his eye. Marguerite added: "I only knew the Snickers."

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Read more about Copia:

  • Nov. 8, 2001
    The New Napa: An ambitious new cultural center called Copia helps revitalize the valley's forgotten city

  • April 5, 2000
    Julia Child Lends Name to Napa Valley's American Center

  • Jan. 22, 2000
    Beringer Donates $1 Million to American Center

  • Jan. 10, 2000
    Wine Spectator Donates $1 Million to New Wine Center

  • June 2, 1999
    Mondavi Breaks Ground on Center for Wine, Food and Arts

  • March 22, 1999
    Robert Mondavi Makes Big Donation to Napa Cultural Center
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