Napa facility pleases all the senses
NAPA — Flavors of a chardonnay are edible at Copia in ways that are uncommon to people who are accustomed to drinking their wine.
Usually wine, no matter what varietal, is described in relation to flavors of food. A chardonnay may have a hint of melon, apple, lemon or pear. What it tastes like is a good start to knowing what foods go well with it.
To demonstrate this flavor of wine, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts has sections of its garden devoted to the flavors of various varietals. While grapes and yeast are the two ingredients of wine, the taste is much more complicated.
It is this tangled web of eating and drinking that inspired Robert Mondavi to create a facility dedicated to showcasing how food, wine and art are each enhanced when they are combined. Next month the center will celebrate its first anniversary after having been in the planning stages for 13 years.
Everywhere you go there is a woman leaning over tending to a tree — she is Copia — goddess of abundance. It does not take long to realize there is abundance inside and outside the four walls.
It is part museum with its exhibits, part educational facility with its seminars, and part culinary extravaganza with a cafe and exceptional restaurant named after Julia Child. And this just begins to describe this multi-million dollar center — $20 million coming from the Mondavis — along the banks of the Napa River.
It would be easy to spend an entire day at Copia.
Those taking the garden tour on a Saturday earlier this month were entranced as they ate their way through the greenery. The tour is included in the $12.50 entrance fee. Everything in the garden is edible, though docent Tom Ehr did say the curry plant would be better smelled than chewed because of its bitterness. Taking a whiff was like being at an East Indian restaurant.
Much of what is grown in the 26 blocks ends up in Copia’s restaurants. The rest is given to area food banks, sold at the employees’ farmers market or turned over to the rabbits who turn it into compost. Some of the spoils go into a worm bed, with the worms then transplanted to the various plots to work their magic.
Along the way, red, white, yellow and orange carrots are pulled. A handful of red, striped and green tomatoes are harvested. Leafs from the beds of lettuce are cultivated. Multiple varieties of basil are plucked, as are strands of chives and oregano. This cornucopia becomes an autumn feast for guests.
An outdoor kitchen where seminars can be put on is turned into a mini- kitchen where the goods are washed and cut for everyone to taste the rich flavors.
Back inside, a seminar on Latin American wines was just beginning. This half-hour of learning is also part of the entry price. To set the mood, the audience is given a glass of Monte Xanic 1997 cabernet from Mexico. And then the learning begins.
Argentina, the world’s fifth-largest producer of wine, and Chile, the second- largest producer in South America, are the countries most people know about. But Brazil, Uruguay and Peru are pressing forward with their winemaking.
Just outside the classroom is a display on toasters. If it were not for Charles Strite getting tired of burned toast in 1926, we might all still be eating untoasted bread.
Some of the stainless steel contraptions had coffee makers built in, some you loaded the bread on the side, others just looked like space-age gadgets.
It is not unusual for a book signing to take place at the center. In the gift shop, an array of cookbooks are for sale, as well as other utensils for the home cook.
Next door is the American Market Cafe where various mustards, barbecue sauces, jellies, olive oils, vinegars and chocolate sauces are sold. This is also where you can buy sandwiches, soups and salads for a casual dining experience, to be eaten indoors or outdoors.
Every Saturday a different winery offers complimentary tastings in the area by the downstairs exhibit area. Walking toward the front of the building is a wall of Child’s awards — everything from honorary degrees to James Beard’s Awards. A slew of her cookbooks are also on display.
Upstairs, some of the renowned chef’s pots and pans are on a wall to make one realize it takes more than a good set of pans and a cookbook to make a memorable dish. More of her pots are in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Exhibits, as at most museums, change. For two months ending Oct. 21, “Measuring Tables: A Nutritional Portrait” examined what families from eight countries eat in an average week. It was rather eye-opening to see how much we waste in the United States, how much processed food we ingest and just how overweight we are because of this.
Also upstairs is an exhibit called “Return Engagement” that will be at Copia until Jan. 6. Artists use what some would call trash and turn it into art. There are lamps with the post made out a garden house and the bulb coming out of a tea cup. Doll-size clothes are made out of candy wrappers.
A history of foods enlightens people to the origins of peanut butter. In the 1890s, a fellow wanted the taste of peanuts but did not have teeth with which to crunch the nuts. Thus, peanut butter was born.
Continuous film footage shows how food and wine are integral to movies.
Mondavi, et al, have shown how food, wine and art are integral to our lives with the wonder called Copia.
Kathryn Reed may be reached at (530) 541-3880, ext. 251 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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