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Phoenix or Lead Balloon?: Copia Reinvents Itself

Copia, for those who don't know, is a multi-million dollar food and wine center in Napa California that was co-founded by Robert Mondavi and was destined to be a showcase for California food and wine -- the epitome of the Napa lifestyle. Actually, that's not quite grand enough. Copia wanted to be the epicenter of a revolution in food and wine for America, a beachhead on the forefront of an epicurean era.

But it never quite turned out that way. I feel about Copia the way I might feel about a teenage son or daughter that, despite all my best efforts at parenting, drops out of high school and hangs out at coffee shops all day smoking cigarettes.

Copia, by almost any account has been a dismal failure. I wince at the phrase, but like that proverbial teenager with an expensive private school background, it just hasn't amounted to much, and there's no excuse for sugar coating the truth. The number of visitors has never been close to the number projected, and financially, it has been a gurgling drain hole of money, sucking down its initial endowment of $20 million, and then chewing through another loan of $50 million for supplemental funding and now is struggling to pay its yearly overhead costs of nearly $5 million dollars.

Now, after five years, Copia is giving what I predict will be one last try before it is simply abandoned and chalked up as a good idea before its time, or a bad idea that should have never been born.

According to a recent story in the San Jose Mercury news, Copia recently announced that it will simply just focus on wine from now on, angling to be a publicly accessible education center about all things wine.

Whether or not dioramas of grape trellising systems and interactive exhibits about wine blending will appeal to the millions of tourists that visit the Napa Valley each year remains to be seen. This is certainly the most encouraging and rational approach that the institution has taken thus far, if only by measure of the Keep It Simple, Stupid approach to marketing.

It's easy, of course, to stand aside and criticize. I have no idea why Copia has never been much of a draw, and I certainly wouldn't know the first thing about how to fix it. All I can do is watch and hope that they get it right this time. As I'm willing to bet that it will be the last.

Note: The link to the San Jose Mercury news story may require registration to view. I recommend the use of www.bugmenot.com if you aren't interested in registering.

Comments (7)

Wine Drinker wrote:
06.18.07 at 11:35 PM

"I have no idea why Copia has never been much of a draw"

... you mean other than 'No Reason For It To Exist' coupled with a nice dose of 'Bad Location'?

It would be sad if they closed the gardens there.

St. Vini wrote:
06.19.07 at 9:15 AM

I think there's (arguably) a reason for it to exist, but the bad location is spot on. 99% of wine seekers skip Napa proper and go right up the valley. If you've got a day to explore, time at Copia severely cuts into that and while the displays of historic American junk food are interesting, they're not germane to what most people come to Napa for. Let's face it, the food is great, but its secondary.


Bruce wrote:
06.19.07 at 11:12 AM

I hope at least some food continues there, in terms of the Julia's Kitchen restaurant and garden.

I was just there a couple of weeks ago, and really enjoyed the exhibit on the history of Italian/Americas in the Napa Valley and the importance of wine.

I enjoy the cooking demonstrations/classes they do, maybe those will continue as there is always a wine focus on them.

Skye wrote:
06.20.07 at 5:06 PM

Copia has never figured out its generic description.

What is it?

A museum? A school? An attraction? A wine tasting bar? HUH?

They failed completely to explain to anyone when to consider going there. Very very poor concept development. Too much money and not enough thinking.

tomfar wrote:
06.22.07 at 11:00 AM

I live a few blocks from Copia and it's a far cry from the crack house that used to be there. The best part is that I can walk down the street, now.

Aside from that, I went to a paid-for tasting there, big time Cabernets from Napa, Washington and France. It was a tremendous experience since the setting was top-notch, the wine choices superb, the dialog germaine to my winemaker life. I am very excited about their new focus - duh! - and the river project is starting to come together finally. I hope they have 5 years to make it through the transition.

Arthur wrote:
06.26.07 at 9:04 AM

And now:.....

Automated wine dispensers ("wine stations"):....


Cory wrote:
06.25.08 at 6:34 PM

Don't you think the opening of the Westin in September right next door and the recent approval for the development of the Ritz-Carlton right across the river will attract a substantial number of patrons that would not have even thought about Copia before? Or do you think even that will not be enough to save Copia?

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