‘Consumers are thirsting for knowledge about wine’
SANTA ROSA — Organizers for a planned 15,000-square-foot wine museum are busily reaching out to potential wine industry supporters as demolition work gets started to convert its future home downtown into a five-story office building.
In the next three months, boosters intend to present the vision for what’s currently called the California Wine Museum (californiawinemuseum.org), according to Lindsay Austin, a wine microcrush club operator and chairman of the nonprofit behind the venture.
“Wine consumers are thirsting for knowledge and want to learn about wine, so our goal is to quench that by creating a venue like a blending of the Academy of Sciences and The Exploratorium,” Mr. Austin said.
The goal is to leave visitors with a higher appreciation for the history, artistry, science, technology and advances in sustainability of growing grapes and making wine.
“We want to get to the level where it’s almost like a cooking class,” Mr. Austin said. “In winemaking, cooking takes nine months and not 90 minutes, so showing the process is not easy to do.”
The envisioned museum is set to occupy the basement of the 100,000-square-foot former AT&T telephone switching building fronting on Third Street across from Courthouse Square and on the city’s Transit Mall. The venue would have 5,000 square feet for exhibits and a 2,000-square-foot tasting room for sampling from a rotating list of 40–60 wines on tap from the state’s American Viticultural Areas and of 10–20 by the bottle. Adding to the interactive sensory experience will be demonstrations, such as of how different types of oak and levels of toasting affect the flavor of wines.
There also is planned to be a 60-seat theater, meeting rooms, a wine library and bookstore, and a commercial kitchen to prepare food for pairings of food and wine.
Redeveloper and general contractor Hugh Futrell Corp. started building renovations in March to turn the windowless building designed to survive nuclear attacks on the Bay Area into an office building for Luther Burbank Savings and TLCD Architecture, the project architect for the renovations and the museum. Renovations are set to be complete by early next year, and the museum’s goal is to open that summer.
But the nonprofit will have to raise $3 million to $4 million to launch, depending on what the proponents hear from potential supporters in the next few months, according to Mr. Austin.
And one question that comes up regularly is whether this museum is anything like Copia, The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in central Napa that collapsed in 2008. It opened in 2001 with $78 million in leveraged bond financing and was anticipating 300,000 visitors a year. That 55,000-square-foot building is still in the process of attracting new uses and occupants.
Just because one “wine center” failed doesn’t mean others will, Mr. Austin said.
“That was heavily leveraged and couldn’t pay down its debt,” he said. “Ours is more modest and more focused.”
The projection for California Wine Museum is about 50,000 visitors a year, or about 1,000 a week. Tasting room revenue, memberships and naming rights are foreseen as sources of income to cover museum expenses, according to marketing materials.
Other pluses the boosters point to are the close proximity of the building to Highway 101, a 700-space city parking garage across the Transit Mall from the museum site and the planned arrival of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit to the west side of Santa Rosa’s central business districts in 2016.
The museum venture already has raised $1 million from the gift of the museum space by Hugh Futrell Corp. The next goal is to raise roughly three-quarters of a million dollars to acquire about 4,500 items from California’s viticultural and oenological history from antiques dealer John McCormick.
The museum plan started in 2011 when Mr. Austin was chairman of the board for Sonoma County Museum, which was set to go into the renovated AT&T building. The basement was set to be parking for the five floors of dwellings to be added to the top of the building. The statewide disbanding of local redevelopment agencies — Santa Rosa owned the building — led to project delays, and that museum opted to go into a commercial building it owned next door.
Also part of the building renovation team are MKM & Associates for structural engineering, Carlile Macy for civil engineering, Quadriga Landscape Architecture & Planning for landscape design, Costa Engineering for mechanical design, Gilleran Energy for consultation on energy efficiency and Suite 16 Electrical Engineering.
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