The CIA at Copia. This property was originally founded as Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in 2001. For many years well before the construction of the Copia center, this land was used for a garden and was owned by the Vallerga family. Joe Vallerga operated a grocery store for some time on part of this land (a well known name in Napa – he founded and operated several Vallerga’s markets).
Robert Mondavi, founder of Robert Mondavi Winery was instrumental in helping fund and promote interest in building Copia including purchasing the site. Despite closing down in 2008 due to a lack of visitors (a tough period with a weak economy between the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the recession in 2008). However, arguably when this center was built it brought recognition and interest to this part of town and triggered other development including the next door public Oxbow Market. With the development of both Copia and the Oxbow Market, a number of tasting rooms then opened in this part of downtown. Both The CIA at Copia and the Oxbow Public Market share a large parking lot and one can easily walk between both buildings. The CIA at Copia is located in the Oxbow District, a part of downtown Napa named after a sharp oxbow like turn in the nearby Napa River.
In late 2015, the Culinary Institute of America acquired the property and moved in – over the following months. After approximately 9 years of being closed it was so nice to actually see people walking in and out of this building again. The name Copia is in tribute to the Roman goddess of wealth and abundance.
The CIA as it is often called was founded in 1946 in New Haven Connecticut – and moved to to its central campus located in Hyde Park, New York in 1970. Today along with the New York campus, and their two Napa Valley locations including the impressive Greystone in St. Helena, founded in 1995 (located in the largest stone winery building in the Napa Valley), they also maintain campuses in Texas and Singapore. Over the years over 50,000 alumni have graduated from their various programs.
The CIA at Copia is home to the Food Business School. That is certainly not all that is housed here, the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum (on the second floor) displays a number of historic items related to cuisine dating from the 18th century to the present. Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma donated some 3,700 historical and culinary significant items to The CIA. Unfortunately he died at age 100 in 2015 before getting to see his collection on display.
In addition, the space houses the small Gutenstein Family Decanter Collection, the Restaurant at CIA Copia (open for lunch or dinner with an extensive bar including a number of craft cocktails), Contimo Provisions (formerly the Box Office), featuring to go items including salads and sandwiches and the Copia store showcases fine products from numerous culinary related vendors.
The Vintner’s Hall of Fame wall located near the main entrance features the whose who of the Napa Valley and beyond including those who have made significant contributions to the wine industry. Most are deceased but some are living – plaques lining the wall include Warren Winiarski, Charles Krug and André Tchelistcheff among many others. One name that is noticeably missing that most definitely should be in this Vintner’s Hall of Fame is Richard Petersen.
Two theaters are located on site, cooking classes including baking demonstrations are offered in the more intimate Napa Vintner’s Theatre – their larger theatre seats 250 and can be used for various events. Along with classes special events are held annually including Ciderfest, Oktoberfest and a Bud Break Celebration. Movie screenings and concerts are also held in the outdoor amphitheatre.
And several tasting experiences are offered – open to the public by walk-in. Currently wines from several wineries are featured daily from 12 to 5pm. The Tasting Showcase features select wineries each with their own custom-built wooden bar that serves as a movable tasting station; additional vintners rotate in every so often. These tastings are held near the Wine Hall of Fame exhibit in the atrium. Guests can purchase tasting flights directly from the store or from the tiny shop within the atrium area. In our experience, the vintners represented tend to be smaller premium Napa Valley based producers.
For a sit down tasting, guests can enjoy a more private experience focusing on excellent vintages or high-end wines from around the world. Staff guide guests through a rare portfolio of a rotating selection of fine wines. And in July of 2018 respected wine veteran and vintner, Kerrin Laz opened the K. Laz Wine Wine Tasting Experiences Room. This private room is exclusively reserved for K. Laz tastings (the same caliber of tastings as offered in her Yountville space – although an added dimension here are the pairings by the CIA’s executive chef). Expect to spend 90 minutes for a tasting – all tastings are by appointment. And like in the Yountville space, Kerrin’s Instagram worthy photographs are displayed and are for sale. Excellent maps produced by Antonio Galloni’s Vinous are displayed and help complement the tastings. Both the private CIA tastings and the K. Laz tasting require appointments.
In addition to the rotating wines from various vintners represented, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone offers their ‘own’ wines, Greystone Cellars. This is a partnership between the Terlato Family, who own Napa Valley based Chimney Rock Winery and Rutherford Hill Winery. The Greystone Cellar wines are made at Rutherford Hill Winery and are served at the restaurant on site as well as distributed in select Kroger grocery stores. Some of the proceeds from the sales of these wines go towards funding scholarships for culinary students.
Greystone Cellars are California designate wines. They currently produce a Chardonnay, Merlot, Petite Sirah and a Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are meant to be easy drinking, made with decent acidity and are to be (for obvious reasons), best enjoyed with food. The 2014 Greystone Cellars Petite Sirah shows sweet fruit forward aromatics, somewhat floral in nature and with notes of prune and blackberry – with hints of a spice sweetness (vanilla). The palate shows very good acidity – and balance with flavors of blackberry. The tannins are well integrated, more subtle in nature framing the finish gently rather then gripping the finish like you often find with wines that are 100% made from this variety.
Noted artist Gordon Huether paid tribute to both Robert and his wife Margrit by creating a dramatic white foam sculpture of each of them simply called, “Is That Bob & Margrit?” This sculpture is located 75 feet above the ground on top of the ‘tower’ near the main entrance. Another impressive piece of artwork by Gordon, “Fork” is prominently shown near the entrance to the restaurant in front of the building. Remarkably this giant fork is entirely made up of over 8,000 normal sized forks. Where he collected all these and how long it took to amass 8,000 forks is perhaps only a question Gordon can answer.
The gardens were always a part of Copia. These are still being farmed with the resulting seasonal produce being used by the restaurant. The gardens extend on the other side of 1st Street and are currently being shared by a number of local chefs – sourcing ingredients for their own restaurants.
A number of olive trees and some select citrus trees are also planted on site. The Colavita Olive Grove Terrace and Outdoor Kitchen serves food in a bucolic setting under the shade of the old olive trees. This is a partnership between olive oil producer Colavita and the Culinary Institute. Nearby bocce ball courts can be used by visitors.
In 2019, two Volta charging stations were installed next to the outdoor parking area. The CIA was the first location in the Napa Valley to offers these particular charging stations. They are free for the public to use while visiting the CIA.
The property can be rented for events or weddings. And has hosted a number of premiere gatherings over the years including the 75th Anniversary bash for the Napa Valley Vintners and select talks by prominent wine & food folks including Karen MacNeil and chef Andrew Zimmern. The community is truly fortunate to have access to a space such as this. For more information visit: www.ciaatcopia.com
Collections (Culinary Arts Museum + Decanter Display)
K. Laz Tasting Room
CIA Kiosk, Oxbow Public Market
(very short lived, their shop is no longer located in Oxbow Public Market).
CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA, ST. HELENA
historic barrel room
spice islands marketplace
CIA Gardens at Charles Krug