Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mondavi's folly.



Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought, what I really need is a life-size statue of legendary Napa winemaker André Tchelistcheff?  No?  Me neither.  But, just on the off chance that you have, beginning this Saturday the 14th of April, you might be in luck. Copia:  The American Centre for Wine, Food and the Arts, closed since December 2008 due to bankruptcy, is about to auction off the entire contents of the mothballed 80,000 square foot centre.
What was Copia?  Well, no one was really ever sure exactly what Copia was, or aimed to be.  Conceptualised by Robert Mondavi, who gifted some $20 million in seed money, the not-for-profit (and therein lies a problem) discovery centre struggled to define it's mission.  With a 700 seat outdoor amphitheatre, 13,000 square feet of gallery space, a demonstration kitchen, a 3.5 acre edible garden and a restaurant named for famed chef Julia Child (I ate there, once) Copia potentially had a lot to offer the community.  However, what Copia did not have was a supporting foundation, an endowment, or incontrovertibly any funding to keep what was a lofty enterprise afloat.
When Copia filed for bankruptcy it had amassed a staggering bond-financed debt of more than $78 million.  The centre had struggled financially since day one.  The projected 300,000 annual visitors never materialised and the support of Napa Valley residents was virtually non-existent: for many locals the lure of gourmet salt and internationally sourced mustard tastings did not prove to be a strong enough enticement to get them through the doors in any great numbers.  
As part of the bankruptcy process, the administrators of the Copia liquidation trust are holding onsite and online auctions to rid themselves of everything - from the gift shop's retail inventory and the centre's 4,000 bottle wine collection to serving dishes and office equipment - and in the process perhaps put a small dent in that $78 million debt. In order to facilitate a good turn out on auction day, many Napa residents were sent a large postcard in the mail advertising the "truly...one of a kind collection of assets to be sold to the highest bidders."  I won't be bidding on anything. For instance, I can't imagine wanting any white wine from Copia's bottle collection.
Copia was an ego driven idea with no concept of reality.  From the onset, there was really no way this particular business model could work.  A shrine to wine (amongst other things), really? With approximately 175 tasting rooms in the valley, beginning a mere 2 miles from Copia's downtown location, I think most visitors would want to pay homage to a living and breathing wine at it's source. Copia, was plainly a folly.
Of course, there is that life-size statue of Mr. Tchelistcheff (although I read that it may not actually be included in the auction), just in case you need one.

11 comments:

Affer said...

Really fascinating. In England, amongst other white elephants, there was The Earth Centre that was built upon a former colliery just outside Doncaster. That copped for about £55million of public funding because it WAS a former colliery....not based upon any meaningful business plan. The result were that it always made huge losses, was closed, sold off cheap, attracted even more public funds, is now a children's activity centre.....and, for all I know, will possibly fail again! As you point out, places like this and Copia always make the (entirely false) assumption that the great majority of the target market is as high-minded and socially aware as the project's prime movers. Well, they're not - just as in my world, most Big Girls like to shop at TopShop and Primark and American Apparel, and screw eco-friendliness and the liberal CSR agenda!

Vinogirl said...

Affer, funny you should mention the children's activity centre. Vinomaker joked that that is probably what the community would want done with Copia. They did it with empty retail space which eventually became Fresh & Easy (Tesco). Or, should I say it would be funny if the whole debacle wasn't a massively irresponsible waste of money.

Thomas said...

Is Andre's statue smoking a cigarette?

Vinogirl said...

Thomas: No, but he is holding a glass...I think it has vodka in it!

About Last Weekend said...

Gosh, with all the things that need some cash, we have this kind of folly? Beggars belief...

Vinogirl said...

ALW: Don't fancy bidding on some used Tiffany cutlery eh?

NHwineman said...

Vinogirl said: "(and therein lies a problem)" early on in this post you began with insight; too bad others were not as realistic as you appear to be!
As for the supporting economy, three of us from New Hampshire had a year-long plan to visit Ca. wine-country in June, but with gas and inflation eating up our income we've had to cancel; if that 'trickles' down to a significant number of people, more than Copia will be affected.
Thanks for a great thought-provoking post,
Dennis
PS:
for those you seem critical of bloggers (Unless you're one of their approved ten), this is one of many reasons why we should embrace them.

NHwineman said...

Sorry!
Should have read: for those of you who seem critical of bloggers (Unless you're one of their approved ten), this blog is one of many reasons why we should embrace them.

Vinogirl said...

NHW: So sorry you and your friends had to put off your visit to California, but I understand that disposable income is not what it used to be. Bills and living expenses have to be addressed before we afford ourselves even small luxuries in life nowadays: I have always believed debt is to be avoided at all cost. Pity others don't feel the same way.
Thanks for the kind words about Vinsanity. I believe there is enough room on the internet for everyone, even the naysayers:)

Rate My Sausage said...

How much is the statue going for? It would look a treat in the communal gardens of the flats.

Vinogirl said...

Sausage: You'd better start a whip-round in the flats then...I've heard the statue of Mr. T may sell for $1 million.