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.

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