by Kate Heyhoe
Something magical has happened in Napa Valley, and more specifically in the town of Napa itself. If you're a food and wine lover and you've never been to the area, put it on your list of things to do before you die. Especially now, while foreign travel is iffy and domestic tourism brims with bargains.
California is full of tourist attractions, Disneyland being the largest in the southland, and the wine country being the most distinctive in the north. Each has its merits, and given the frequency of tourists to these areas, the surrounding neighborhoods and towns have created a full menu of other spots worth a visit—a kind of "value-added tourism."
One case in point is the wine country. The treasured Napa Valley has always attracted visitors to the picturesque towns of St. Helena and Yountville. But the city of Napa, entryway to the valley from the Bay Area, functioned more as a home for those who worked in these winery towns or provided such unromantic support services as car sales, rug cleaning, and other Yellow Pages occupations.
Then, in November 2001, along came a magical attraction on the banks of the Napa River, within the confines of the City of Napa: COPIA, The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts. Spearheaded by Robert and Margrit Mondavi and other wine country leaders, this $55 million not-for-profit cultural center and museum finally opened its doors to the public, giving form to what had been a mere concept back in 1988.
When I first heard about COPIA, I thought it would be—or at least might be—as tacky as the gift shops that dot wine country shopping centers and Bay Area airport terminals. I was so wrong.
COPIA couldn't be more tasteful, more world-class, and more stimulating to people of all ages and walks of life. The permanent and changing exhibits range from amusing, interactive looks at food and culture, to stunning art pieces and thought-provoking sculptures. Even the architecture and the grounds reflect the ambiance that comes with a true appreciation for the good life. If Disneyland is commercial, loud, and shallow, then the understated COPIA is the anti-Disneyland. It's almost Zen-like in its calm and serene setting, but it's also full of fun. At COPIA, you leave with unlimited food for thought and family discussion, instead of animamatronic refrains from "It's a small world..." repeating ceaselessly in your mind.
COPIA is still being discovered by tourists, yet already its mere existence has spawned a cultural change in the town of Napa. New restaurants, shops, and artisanal food merchants dot the nearby area, offering plenty of exciting dining and shopping opportunities. But the restaurant at COPIA (which could have been as un-inviting as a cafeteria lunchroom) is the place to be. "Julia's Kitchen," as it's named, reflects the same comfortable hospitality, refined but casual, as Ms. Child herself. Once in its presence, you won't want to leave.
And why would anyone want to leave a place with menus that feature Crispy Artichoke Heart stuffed with Crescenza cheese and oven-dried tomato vinaigrette; entrees of Wild Mushroom Millefeuille with baby leeks, carrot confit and white truffle oil; and such desserts as Meyer lemon soufflé with honey lavender cream. (Or skip the standard menu items and opt for the chef's tasting menu.) Now under the direction of Joachim Splichal's Patina Group, Julia's Kitchen is an open one, allowing guests to view talented Chef Victor Scargle and crew craft intricate delicacies (using produce from COPIA's own organic gardens) with ballet-like grace, timing and precision. Each plate that emerges from the kitchen is quite appropriately an individual, edible work of art to view first, and then savor. Eat slow. You'll want to remember every bite.
Eating and sipping are only two of the attractions at COPIA. Who knew that food and wine could spark creativity and entertainment in all art forms? Full and current details of COPIA's complete menu of events, shows, and attractions can be found at www.copia.org, but just a short list of summer 2003's highlights include:
A Taste of COPIA Luncheon Series
OGIM (Oh Gosh! It's Monday) Outdoor Concert Series
Dinner and a Movie Friday Nights
Kids at COPIA engaging summer activities for the whole family
Golden Age of Wine
Jacques Pépin Shares Stories from his Memoir, The Apprentice
Holidays at COPIA: Father's Day, Summer Solstice, Independence Day
Garden Tea Party
Slow Food Weekend: Celebrate Ethnic Cuisine
The Persian Pantry New Food of Life: A Picture of Persia
New York Wine & Food Classic
Inaugural COPIA Wine Country Tour
The Casual Vineyard Table with Carolyn Wente and Kimball Jones COPIA: New Home for Napa's Farmers' Market
COPIA's Exhibition Schedule of shows you won't see elsewhere includes:
Wheatfields (March 21—June 30, 2003)
Abstract compositions illustrate aerial views of wheatfields after harvest.
Floating Botanica: Sculptures by Ming Fay (April 18—Aug. 4, 2003)
Several sculptural installations evolve around a surrealistic fantasy of real and imagined objects from nature
Wit & Wine: A New Look at Ancient Iranian Ceramics (May 22—Sept. 1, 2003)
Beautiful, technically sophisticated, and often amusing, from the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation
John Ruppert: Moon Gourds & Crucible (May 23—Sept. 1, 2003)
Giant cast metal gourds surrounding a 9-foot high transparent chain-link vessel, create a charged, lunar-like landscape.
Eating and Drinking in Splendor: Georgian Silver (June 13—Sept. 22, 2003)
Splendid silver serving pieces dramatically illustrate how and how much, people dined and drank during the period; from the Alan and Simone Hartman Collection
Grapes in the Golden West: The Early Wine Trade in California (July 4—Sept. 29, 2003)
Fascinating, colorful examples of rare graphic advertising from earlier days.
Salad Dressing (September 18, 2003—January 5, 2004)
Explores what happens when artists and designers turn foodstuffs-or their images-into garments.
Forks in The Road: Food, Wine and The American Table
A light-hearted look at America's approach to food and drink (inaugural permanent exhibition)
If the list of this summer's events at COPIA haven't yet convinced you to plan for a visit, perhaps a sampling of the fare at Julia's Kitchen will. Below are some of the specialties of the house, provided by Executive Chef Victor Scargle. Salud!
NOTE: Julia's Kitchen is open to visitors during regular COPIA hours, Wednesday through Monday, serving lunch, 11:30am to 3:00pm, and dinner, Thursday through Sunday, 5:30 to 9:30pm. For reservations, please call (707) 265-5700, or reserve on line at www.opentable.com.
COPIA is located at 500 First Street in downtown Napa along the Scenic Napa River. Hours are Wednesday through Monday 10am—5pm (closed Tuesday). Admission is $12.50 for adults, $10.00 for students & seniors and $7.50 for children between 6-12 years. Memberships are available. For additional information, please call (707) 259-1600, or visit the website at www.copia.org. COPIA is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit cultural center and museum whose mission is to investigate and celebrate the culture of the collective table through wine, food & the arts.
Copyright © 2003, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created June 2003
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