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Napa's new star.

The valley's largest city is suddenly hot as an exciting culinary center gets ready to open

The biggest thing to lit the Wine Country town of Napa since the end of Prohibition, Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts is more than just another museum. "Copia will be an international destination," says director Peggy Loar, "and will help put Napa on the world map."

While the Napa Valley is an internationally known wine region, its largest town is often bypassed by visitors. But Copia--a mix of museum, gardens, and educational center-is set to change that when it opens this month. At least that's what Copia founder Robert Mondavi hopes. Trim, white-haired, and as stylish as a country gentleman, Mondavi, at 88, is the head of a vast wine empire. For him, the $55-million center, planned to open November 18, represents a legacy. "I came to the point where I wanted to give something back to our country," Mondavi explains. "And this will be something unique--celebrating wine, food, and art in one location."

Facing the river on the edge of downtown, Copia is an extensive building topped by an undulating roof. Like a jewel in a glittering setting, it is surrounded by 3 1/2 acres of gardens with herbs, vineyards, vegetables, and flowers. The gardens were inspired by those of the Chateau de Villandry, a castle in France's Loire Valley.

Inside Copia, you can taste wine or take one of 15 weekly wine classes, perhaps in conjunction with one of the 15 different food courses guided by master chefs, who will be able to demonstrate techniques in a tiered 75-seat classroom complete with kitchen. In the museum, a permanent exhibition, Forks in the Road: Food, Wine, and the American Table, examines the place of food and wine in American life today. Aroma sensory stations offer guidance for untrained noses as guests sniff their way through a study of wine components.

Downtown renewal

Copia is part of an ongoing renaissance of Napa's core, which runs roughly from First to Third Streets and from Jefferson Street to just past Soscol Avenue. Because the downtown had suffered repeated flooding, one key ingredient of the city's resurgence was the 1998 passage of a county measure to help fund flood protection. The Napa River is now undergoing some $238 million of flood-control work; one day, it is hoped, parks and a trail will wind along the water.

Now, at First and Main, retail shops are going into a new two-story brick-and-stone structure that echoes the style of the adjacent 1879 Napa Valley Opera House. The old opera building itself is undergoing renovation and will soon reopen as a performing arts center.

In and around downtown, upscale lodgings have popped up; perhaps the most luxurious is small, Asian-influenced Milliken Creek Inn, a Bali Hai--meets--Napa kind of retreat. New restaurants are rising near the town's center--try now to book a table at Julia's Kitchen, inside Copia and scheduled to open with the center.

Or just stroll Main Street and inhale the aroma of pumpkin cookies baking at Sweetie Pies. For Napa, too, things have never smelled sweeter.

Travel planner

Napa is 50 miles northeast of San Francisco. From State 29, take the First Street/downtown Napa exit and follow signs to downtown and Copia (just past the Napa Valley Wine Train depot). For details, contact the Napa Valley Conference and Visitors Bureau at (707) 2267459 or www.napavalley.com.

Attractions

Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts. The opening art exhibit, Active ingredients, runs November 18 through April 22. $12.50. 500 First; (707) 259-1600 or www.copia.org.

Dining

American Market Cafe. Located in Copia, the cafe will offer picnic-style fare. (707) 259-1600.

Cole's Chop House. Comfortable yet hip, this retro-style restaurant faces Napa Creek within shouting distance of Copia. 1122 Main St.; (707) 224-6328.

Julia's Kitchen. Copia's restaurant, which has garden seating, will feature seasonal menus with ingredients from the center's organic gardens. (707) 259-1600.

Sweetie Pies. Buy cookies, pies, cakes, and goodies like the s'more brownie with milk chocolate chunks and marshmallow. 520 Main; (707) 257-7280.

Tuscany. Sit by the picture windows and people-watch while you warm up with hearty goat cheese ravioli or a bowl of minestrone. 1005 First; (707) 258-1000.

Lodging

Blackbird Inn. The newly renovated California Arts and Crafts home has a front porch, huge stone fireplace, and lots of fine woodwork. The eight guest rooms are contemporary, with down comforters, four poster beds, and gas fireplaces. From $155, breakfast included (ask about the Vintage Nights package). 1755 First; (888) 567-9811 or www.foursisters.com.

Milliken Creek Inn. Overlooking the Napa River, the 10 rooms hint at the exotic, with fresh flowers, burlwood-type flooring, and sea grass lounges along with fireplaces, spa tubs, and beds mounded with Italian linen sheets and white comforters. You can stroll the tranquil gardens. A spa is being planned. From $250, breakfast included. 1815 Silverado Trail; (888) 622-5775, (707) 255-1197, or www.millikencreekinn.com. com.

Napa River Inn. The 1884 Hatt Building has been tastefully remodeled with 66 rooms and suites, each offering a fireplace or a view of the river. From $159. 500 Main; (877) 251-8500, (707) 251-8500, or www.napariverinn. com.
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Title Annotation:city of Copia
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Words:871
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