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Published:  23 July, 2008

By David Williams

After ten years of planning and construction, Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, finally opened in the Napa Valley last week. The $55 million project is the brainchild of Robert Mondavi (pictured with centre director Peggy Loar) and top American chef Julia Childs, with financial support coming from a number of Napa wineries. Copia comprises an 80,000ft2 building set in 3.5 acres of gardens, featuring a restaurant, a retail outlet, 13,000ft2 of gallery space, a library, several classrooms and a 280-seat auditorium, and has been labelled by some as Napa's answer to Vinopolis'. According to Mondavi, the centre aims to explore and demonstrate the global impact and importance of American wine, food and arts', by hosting exhibitions, courses, tastings and seminars given by winemakers, gardeners, artists and chefs, for both the public and professionals'. Mondavi and Loar also hope the centre will, in Loar's words, advance understanding of important biological and sociological issues related to world food supply, genetically altered and irradiated agriculture, dietary imbalances and insufficiencies, and other globally critical subjects'. The launch is not without controversy, however. Local paper The Napa Sentinel complained that the centre has come at considerable expense to the local taxpayer (in excess of $2 million to Napa residents, with $70 million coming from the state government), and on a site which had long been earmarked for low-cost housing. It also suggested that traffic problems in Napa City will be exacerbated by the 300,000 visitors expected to visit the centre each year. Copia's backers dismiss the claims, and say that any cost to the taxpayer will easily be offset by the new jobs and business attracted to the city. Copia will be a one-of-a-kind, world-class cultural and educational resource, playing an important role in the revitalisation of downtown Napa,' said Loar.