Needed: The California Museum of Wine

HistorywineryReading this story of Jim McCormick's private museum of wine antiques and ephemera in Petaluma, California, I am reminded of the dismay I hold for the fact that California has never made an effort to memorialize and celebrate its second most important industry (after moviemaking): WINE.

There is no California Wine Museum. And there should be. The history of winemaking in California touches on so many overarching themes that define California from immigration, agriculture and technology to tourism, innovation and culinary trendsetting.

And yet, as Mr. McCormick points out, there is no such obviously justified celebration of this key California industry.

Of course, we seem to live in an age when public expenditures on a museum would seem to many as an extravagant and unjustified waste of money when we can't even fully fund our schools, fix our roads, keep our state parks open or fully execute on the state's healthcare initiatives. Those many would probably be justified in this opinion.

But let's proceed from the perspective that California and America will, at some point, regain its mojo, return to its economic glory and with that return enable the people to celebrate and memorialize greatness. And lets proceed from the the premise that celebrations of civic pride take commitment and provide benefits. Let's acknowledge that celebrations of great achievement and exposition of defining characteristics bond us as a people and remind us that striving is the underlying requirement for progress.

And it's not as though the State of California has not previously committed to funding educational institutions that celebrate the state's defining character and achievements. We have the Railroad Museum; the Museum of History, Woman and the Arts; The State Indian Museum; The State Capital Museum; The Mining and Mineral Museum; The California Military Museum.

What would a California State Wine Museum hold and how would it hold it?

Most certainly it would examine the immigrant experience and wine as French, German, Italian and Portugese among other national groups so contributed to wine's early history.

A Wine Museum would certain portray the way the popularity of California wine increased through international competitions to the Paris Tasting to increases in quality.

The evolution of the wine label would be a must in the California Wine Museum.

A Winemaker & Grapegrower Hall of Fame would occupy a wing to celebrate the individuals who moved the industry forward.

I imagine the Museum would contain an Historic Wine Vault that kept bottled examples of California wine history that is regularly added to with new vintages from various regions.

The separate wine regions within California must be documented to display their differences and uniqueness.

Certainlly our State Wine Museum would include a living repository of important grapevines.

And, as an adjunct to the State Wine Museum, wouldn't it be appropriate to designate certain vineyards across the state as State Historic Landmarks? There are a variety of still operating "ancient" vineyards that are unique testaments to the history of the California wine industry and still provide us with cherished wines.

The list of what might be included in a State Wine Museum is probably too long to list. The same is true of where such a museum could be located. Any number of regions would seem likely centers for the museum, including the Napa Valley, which unfortunately was unable to support the now gone Copia: American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts.

Though the justification for a California State Wine Museum is unquestionable, the issue is money and will. Succeeding would take a monumental effort of a few devoted people who understand the value of such an endeavor. Meanwhile, the endowment required would likely have to come from a variety of people with the means to support its construction. Both these requirements are, sadly, unlikely anytime in the near future.

Still, what a bold and wonderful and justified idea is The California Museum of Wine. Petaluma's Mr. McCormick has the right idea. His own collection would be a worthy part of such a place. And it's something of a shame he does not have the resources to open his own collection to the public.

Perhaps…one day…in the future such a plan will take off. It's a deserving plan.


Posted In: Culture and Wine


9 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - July 3, 2012

    How timely.
    There’s a new Finger Lakes museum, and in it will be a Finger Lakes Wine Museum, with an active replica 19th century winery.
    Because of my background in script writing, I was among a few people who created a 45-minute DVD for the museum that traces the FL wine industry from its beginning to Prohibition. Next year, we will produce a DVD that begins with Repeal to the current state of affairs.
    There is no overall New York wine museum, but we now have a Finger Lakes version.

  2. Tom Wark - July 3, 2012

    This is outstanding news. Thanks for sharing and for helping the project.
    I’m curious, what is the funding source? And who instigated the wine portion of the museum?

  3. Thomas Pellechia - July 3, 2012

    The funding source is all over the place: government and private.
    The wine portion was a no-brainer, since the museum is situated right smack in the middle of the wine region. The wine industry story is considered a major draw for museum visits.
    Did you know that the commercial wine industry in New York got its start around the same time as the one in California?

  4. Chicago Pinot - July 4, 2012

    Two ideas for a location: The site of the late, long remembered COPIA –
    It could also be a way to revitalize Crushpad, which according to rumors, is in some financial trouble.

  5. Mel Knox - July 5, 2012

    Maybe you could buy the old Copia building!
    I trvel a lot and see many wine museums…they are usually empty.

  6. Charlie Olken - July 5, 2012

    I am wondering if Mr. McCormack’ collection is related to the California Wine Museum,
    This place seems to exist only on the Internet as I could not find an address for it, and if it is separate, then it either overlaps with McCormack or accomplishes a lot of what he is looking for.
    I love the idea, and I was hoping that Copia might have been such a place. Sadly, it was not, and it turned out to be too many things and nothing much at the same time.
    Here is my idea. Locate the museum in one of the major wine areas right smack dab along the tourist trail. Put it next to the Robert Mondavi Winery or next to Sebastiani or next to Kendall-Jackson. Have satellites in other wine country locations. Make the exhibits interactive and instructive, not just horribly static. Combine archival materials with modern materials. Look forward as well as back.
    And most of all, do not be static. Do not be boring. DO be the kind of place that a person would want to visit more than once. Otherwise, Mel Know’ comments will be true for yet another wine museum.

  7. El Jefe - July 6, 2012

    The history of wine in California begins with the missions in the late 1700s (Mission San Gabriel for example was well known for the quality of its wines.) There’s also a lot of history of winemaking in the foothills during the 1850s and after that has yet to be written. Which pretty much means pretty much anywhere in the state would be a logical place for this museum…

  8. Tom Wark - July 6, 2012

    I agree El Jefe…But in the end, you want to put such a thing where lots of people will have access.

  9. JohnLopresti - July 9, 2012

    The photo looks like it shows some people who I worked with; and they were old then. I’m not sure whether the old timers who still do a yearly reunion at the former sprawling site in Alexander Valley have recorded much beyond pictures from their ongoing events. Surely, there must be some colorful tales, both simple and subtle, from prior times. I worked at the place in the decade around the years in which it gathered its centennial vintage crush.
    I wish that only the cheerful, the ingenious, and joyous could be preserved, from the ancient histories of what took place there!
    Historically elsewhere, there is a little more information now on the web than there was several years ago, concerning the so-called Carpenteria grapevine, which was a Mission variety (achieves only 16% sugar at harvest); that one trellised plant, according to the photos and records, produced 8 tons, and had a trunk diameter nearly ten feet. Talk about ‘gnarly, knotty’ on the label.
    But, at that brix the Mission variety is not going to compete in the modern industry. Still, there is some interesting ampelography of the strain. Modern DNA work is showing much about our materials sources in the Old World.
    Then, of course, there was the phylloxera export from America to Europe, which ruined classic vineyards throughout France in the 1880s and gave rise to the modern rootstock methods of planting Old World varieties.
    One of the interesting, if quite technological, sources of information about old vines is the UC linked FPMS (Foundation Plant Materials Service), whose websites often show photos of rather picturesque old vines in their historic blocs. They trace the origins of plant materials, and work to produce virus free, propating vines for the domestic winegrape industry.
    Here is a link to a picture of an ancient sauvignon blank vine at FPMS:
    200 KB.
    But I tend to agree that the ‘museum’ needs a strong business element to be viable.
    I imagine Tom P will have fun with the New York version. NY has a long and interesting history of viticulture. NY pests are different, and in the old days before climate warming, native American grape varieties became part of the mix in developing “French hybrid” varieties that could survive snow! Or so I hear!

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