Dining: Fruitful Abundance

On a single visit to Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in Napa, Calif., it’s possible to sip a cool glass of Viognier, join a poetry workshop, dip freshly baked bread into locally pressed extra virgin olive oil, and learn how to design an edible centerpiece or plant an Asian garden. You can nibble pickled red grapes, hear a riverside concert, quaff a frothy cappuccino, learn how rice paper is made, and explore interactive art exhibits. And that’s just for starters.

Named after the Roman goddess of abundance, Copia is a formidable testament to the vision of its founders, legendary vintner Robert Mondavi and his wife, Margrit. In 1988, they began to explore the idea of establishing “a cross-disciplinary institution designed to educate, promote, and celebrate American achievements in the culinary, winemaking, and visual arts.” A decade later, the couple acquired the 121⁄2-acre site for the project in downtown Napa and made a lead gift of $20 million for its construction.

The building that houses Copia is physically striking. Designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, it’s an 80,000-square-foot structure of stone, polished concrete, metal, and glass set on the banks of the Napa River. Two floors feature 13,000 square feet of gallery space, a 74-seat demonstration kitchen, a 280-seat theater, and Julia’s Kitchen—a gourmet restaurant named after honorary trustee Julia Child. A three-and-a-half-acre organic garden fronts the property, while terraces and lawns flank a 500-seat riverside amphitheater out back.

Depending on what kind of experience you’re hungry for, you can book ahead to join one of a vast variety of food and wine classes, art and garden workshops, or film screenings and concerts. A series of free, 30-minute introductory classes is available as well. For a more serendipitous experience, a day pass opens up a world of opportunity.

The Cornucopia gift shop’s curated collection of culinary, art, and garden books and trendy kitchen gadgets will turn your head, but save it for later. On the ground floor, food and wine (and the actual eating and drinking thereof) are foremost. The American Market Cafe, an open marketplace “in the round,” beckons with everything from Niman Ranch applewood-smoked ham-and-cheese panini to locally made cheeses to fig-and-roasted-shallot tapenade. You can taste selections of wines by the glass at the wine bar and catch a cooking demonstration in the Meyer Food Forum.

Upstairs, Copia’s major long-term exhibition, Forks in the Road: Food, Wine and the American Table, offers a fascinating look at how his-tory, customs, science, geography, and ingenuity have shaped our food and winemaking culture. Active Ingredients, the inaugural contemporary art exhibit, features projects and installations by eight world-renowned artists and will be shown until April 22. Future exhibits include The Birth of Coffee and Return Engagement: Art from Recycled Materials. Also in the works are plans for Copia’s Kitchen Table, a single private dining experience in the alcove between Julia’s Kitchen and the American Market Cafe that will feature special tasting menus from executive chef Mark Dommen. It will cost approximately $500 to reserve the table, which is anticipated to be available sometime this spring. As if you need an excuse to go back.

Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, 707.259.1600, www.copia.org

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