"I wanted to build something that would last 500 to a thousand years, to educate the children."

-- Vintner Robert Mondavi on Copia, February 2001

There's sad irony to the fact that Copia -- Napa's grand experiment for showcasing the bounty of the North Bay -- closed just a few days before Thanksgiving.

Named for the Roman goddess of abundance, the center was wine-making legend Robert Mondavi's dream for celebrating the many benefits of good food and wine -- and good living.

The timing of its closure so close to Thanksgiving is perhaps symbolic of how the complex, otherwise known as the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, fell short of that promise.

Records show that Copia lost at least $4 million every year since its opening in 2001. As a result, the nonprofit organization was forced to lay off 24 of its 80 full-time employees in September and cut its hours from seven days a week to three. Finally, it closed down entirely, and on Monday filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy laws.

With this filing, the nonprofit group is hoping to reorganize, get an infusion of cash and reopen. But when, and what it will look like when it does, are major unknowns.

Did the dream exceeded practicality? It's hard to say. Certainly the economy didn't help. Copia opened shortly after 9/11 and shut down during another down time.

Still, the economy is not the only culprit. One can't question the ambition of a dream. But it's fair to question a dream as a business model.

Santa Rosa has had its own hopes for a local food and wine center, one targeted for the proposed transit-oriented development slated for Railroad Square.

The center is modeled more after the successful Ferry Building food and wine center than the Copia complex. Still, it would be wise for the supporters and designers of the Santa Rosa center to take note of lessons to be learned from Copia.

While the agricultural offerings of the North Bay are in abundance, the public's willingness to pay to learn about them, apparently, are not.

Nonetheless, we trust Mondavi's dream of leaving something for the children is not dead -- just reorganizing.

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