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California Wine Museum Hopes to Open in 2015

Facility would highlight state history, serve as Sonoma County wine center

by Paul Franson
Thousands of historical artifacts assembled by antique dealer Jim McCormick will be the heart of the California Wine Museum being planned in downtown Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa, Calif.—Organizers of the proposed California Wine Museum plan to open next year in the basement (“cellar”) of a former telephone switching building in downtown Santa Rosa.

The heart of the museum will be 4,500 historical artifacts assembled by Jim McCormick, a long-time collector, antique dealer and specialist in wine and viticultural antiquities. It will feature interactive exhibits, wine tasting and pairing with food as well as classes and other events.

The mission of The California Wine Museum is to preserve and exhibit California’s wine heritage, educate visitors about state-of-the-art winemaking plus learn the nuances of wine appreciation.

While designed to cover wine history from all of California, the museum also will serve as a wine center for Sonoma County. Its organizers plan to collaborate with local academic institutions and wineries to orient, educate and entertain visitors.

New location
The museum will be on Third Street across from Courthouse Square and on the city’s Transit Mall just off Highway 101. A 700-space city parking garage is nearby, as are other museums including a new Sonoma County Museum, Charles Schultz (“Peanuts”) Museum and the Luther Burbank home and gardens.

The museum site is a few blocks from historic and popular Railroad Square, which is due to get Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) light rail in 2016.

Learning from experience
The founders of the proposed museum have modest goals, perhaps based on the experience of Copia: The American Institute for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, Calif. Copia famously spent more than $50 million including building a huge edifice in downtown Napa that opened in November 2001 and closed almost exactly seven years later.

“Copia was heavily leveraged and couldn’t pay down its debt,” said Lindsay Austin, board president of the proposed venture. “Ours is more modest and more focused.”

Austin was co-founder and chairman of Pavilion Integration Corp., a leader in biophotonics that has worked with the University of California, Davis, to develop research tools. He was formerly chairman of Sonoma County Museum and has run a business incubator and angel-investing group.

Austin, an entrepreneur and wine buff who runs a winemaking club, modestly forecasts 50,000 visitors per year—or about 1,000 per week—including tourists and locals drawn to classes, events and wine. Copia’s initial plans, by comparison, called for 300,000 visitors, but it hardly hit one third of that.

Looking for $4 million
California Wine Museum’s organizers have just started a capital campaign among its key audience, the wine industry. They hope to raise just shy of $4 million, with the first goal of raising $750,000 to buy wine artifacts. The museum will occupy 15,000 square feet inside the 100,000-square-foot office building donated by Hugh Futrell Corp., an in-kind donation of $1 million, reducing capital and operational costs.

Austin sees tasting room revenue, memberships, naming rights, merchandise and events covering the annual operational costs of $1 million.

The venue would have 5,000 square feet for exhibits and a 2,000-square-foot tasting room for sampling wines from a rotating list of 40-60 wines on tap and 10-20 by the bottle representing California’s American Viticultural Areas. The museum will place special focus on vineyard and winery sustainability, a sensitive subject in Sonoma County.

Exhibits will include interactive sensory experiences such as how different types of oak and toasting levels affect wine flavor.

The museum also will include a 60-seat theater for industry and other events, meeting rooms, a wine library and bookstore, and a commercial kitchen to prepare food for pairings of food and wine. An unrelated restaurant is expected to occupy the first floor of the office building above.

The board of directors includes people with close ties to the wine business and grapegrowing, but no big names from the wine business—yet. Austin admits that he hopes to attract active supporters who can join the museum board and provide some funding.

Well-known wine publicist and photographer George Rose is assisting in promotion and in seeking support in the wine business. Learn more at

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