Antique Wine Equipment Collection to be Sold

'Dirt to table' assemblage of vintage equipment and items was to be part of museum

by Andrew Adams
wine museum collection winemaking equipment
Vintage equipment for making sparkling wine is among the collection of Jim McCormick, who is selling the entire lot.

San Rafael, Calif.—It started with vintage corkscrews, but soon antiques dealer Jim McCormick was buying lab equipment from the 19th century, cast-iron grape crushers from some of California’s oldest wineries and copper smudge pots from another era.

McCormick, who lives in Petaluma, Calif., is an art and antiques dealer who found a niche matching high-end, rare corkscrews with wealthy collectors. While scouting for corkscrews, he came across a variety of old winemaking equipment, and for nearly 30 years he’s been collecting it all. “Along the way, I found the other stuff so intriguing,” he said.

Today, McCormick’s collection is comprised of more than 4,000 individual pieces stored in four warehouses. Some of McCormick’s antiques include:

• An iron crusher with fir wood hopper from the C. Krug winery, circa 1890-1910.

• A “scissor style” basket press from the late 19th century that appears to have been made in Hungary but was used in Sonoma County, Calif.

• A double-tank sulfur dispenser designed to be carried on the back of a mule, circa 1910-1930.

• Copper vineyard injectors for Phylloxera, circa 1890-1910.

• Bellows-powered French transfer pumps, circa 1850-1870.

The complete collection can be found at californiawinemuseum.com, and interested parties can contact McCormick directly with offers. That, however, wasn’t his original plan. 

The makings of a museum
McCormick told Wines & Vines that he has worked with four different nonprofit groups on using the entire collection as the basis of a museum dedicated to California’s wine industry. His vision has always been to document winemaking from “dirt to table” as well as offer insights into the early marketing efforts of the industry. McCormick’s collection also includes myriad vintage bottles, adverts and marketing brochures.

The most recent museum partnership offered an excellent location in downtown Santa Rosa. In 2013, the backers of what was then called the California Wine Discovery Museum announced they would open a museum in a 15,000-square-foot space in the lower levels of a building in downtown Santa Rosa. The planned museum would feature McCormick’s collection.

A local developer had worked out a deal with the city of Santa Rosa to renovate a former AT&T facility into a mixed-use building. The project has taken a decade and cost more than $16 million, but TLCD Architecture and developer Hugh Futrell completed the transition of a monolithic, concrete phone line switching facility into a stylish and modern building earlier this year.

In February 2016, The Press Democrat newspaper reported the opening of the building, and that the basement of the structure was still considered the likely home of a wine museum.

If it is home to a museum, it won’t feature McCormick’s collection. He said his collection was in a five-month escrow agreement that ended up stretching for more than two years. The extended contract expired in June 2015, and he’d been hoping that the backers of the museum could raise the $5.5 million to purchase the collection and build out the museum. “You thought it would have been an easy endeavor to raise a minimum amount of money,” he said. “For a project this size, that’s not a lot of money.”

But it didn’t happen, and now McCormick says he’s just selling the lot. “It’s been a long time with too many letdowns and ups and downs,” he said. “It’s hard for me to being doing this, breaking up the collection, but it’s what I have to do.”

He still thinks California’s wine industry is in need of a central museum to highlight its pre-Prohibition history as well as how the industry recovered and grew to enjoy success at the Judgement of Paris.

Some of McCormick’s collection already has been purchased by other museums and private collectors. Jean Charles Boisset, who spent millions restoring the historic Buena Vista winery in Sonoma, Calif., purchased several pieces for that winery’s museum dedicated to its early history.

In fact, Lindsay Austin, board president of what’s now being called the Wineseum, The California Wine Museum, said Boisset’s collection provides such a good display of early winemaking equipment that the group opted to go in a different direction for its museum and venue that is still in the works for downtown Santa Rosa. “Our nonprofit is planning on an even larger and more impactful venue in the planning stage on the square in Santa Rosa pending permits and a special ABC license,” Austin wrote in an email to Wines & Vines. “It will have multiple wine related programming in the space, primarily educational, and it will still include a wine museum, which will be focused on California wine history, and with historical artifacts but with few wine tools which are well displayed at the Buena Vista wine tool museum.”

Austin said the group chose not to purchase McCormick’s collection and is instead focused on raising the money needed to make their new vision a reality. In addition to his work with the Wineseum, Austin is the owner of Kings Hill Cellars winery in Santa Rosa, where club members do “home winemaking” with top-notch equipment, premium grapes and professional support.

He added the Wineseum board has decided to operate in “stealth mode” until fundraising is complete and when construction on Santa Rosa’s new “unified” central square is also finished. “The good news is that the uncertainty about the unification of the square is behind us, and there is growing investment to make this a destination so we are more confident it will happen, but when is tough to estimate given all the variables.”

Posted on 07.28.2016 - 11:32:16 PST
Jim's collection is fantastic, built with decades of hard work, knowledge, and desire to promote the California wine industry through history. It truly is a missed opportunity for a wine region in California and as a museum that would bring in visitors from around the world. The style of museum Jim had in mind, would have knocked it out of the park - perfect for today's museum visitor. "Low Tech - High Touch" its what the travelers really want and would have been a great retail booster for any winery. Jim's collection included many winery and vineyard artifacts made of copper, brass and bronze. These items are on display at the Arizona Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale, AZ where there is a flourishing new wine industry. Come and visit the Verde Valley "Wine Region".

Drake Meinke
Founder ACAM

Posted on 07.30.2016 - 09:48:21 PST
As an art historian and patron of the Petaluma Museum Association, I assisted Jim McCormick in curating his 2014 exhibit, “Petaluma Viticulture History & Heritage: A Celebration of Wine & Community.” Although the exhibit was of exceptional quality and honored by the Sonoma County Historical Society, it was only a small preview of the quality, educational value and potential of a museum dedicated to displaying Jim’s entire collection. How unfortunate that the opportunity to create a world class wine museum with Jim’s definitive collection has not been made a reality.

Paula Freund

Posted on 07.27.2016 - 12:15:16 PST
When Jim decided to end his project for a wine museum, we purchased nearly all of his early California wine trade advertising, engravings, ephemera, photos, etc. for our museum project. All of these pieces will have a great home, and help to educate and entertain the public about the fascinating history of California's early wine trade. We intend to locate our museum in the Napa Valley.

Best of luck to you Jim!

We have just set up a new Facebook page:


Dean Walters, Managing Director
Early California Wine Trade Museum

Posted on 07.28.2016 - 17:02:10 PST
Yes,it's true. My thirty year collection of historic,California wine related artifacts is "up for grabs"...Most anything to be found and used at a 19th to early 20th century winery or vineyard. All the viticultural, cellar, cooperage, enology and other implements and tools that brought wine to the table. And, the vast collection of material that relates to the marketing of wine in California.Mostly,still available.Many classical decorative and display items too. Please take time to view the collection on line at CALIFORNIAWINEMUSEUM.COM
Guess my passion got the better of me. The wine industry still remains the only major industry in California without a museum to celebrate its history and heritage.
James Mccormick

Posted on 07.23.2016 - 04:27:53 PST
I'm very interested in it.

Posted on 07.25.2016 - 07:06:09 PST
Nice article. Jim McCormick built a stunning collection and it is a shame that the wine industry, flush with profits, does so little to honor its traditions and history.
Bo Simons

Posted on 07.25.2016 - 12:31:22 PST
Great to hear the details on what's been happening with Jim McCormick's amazing collection. Lucky to have someone so dedicated to the art and craft of wine history.

Posted on 07.26.2016 - 19:37:45 PST
Jim's vast wine collection is fantastic! We've used many of his historical pieces in our wine documentary. His knowledge and guidance has been a huge help to us. Jamie Campana-Director/Producer/Editor

Posted on 07.26.2016 - 20:38:49 PST
Jim is one of the premiere collectors of wine antiques in the United States. His assistance with our wine documentary has been instrumental to our success.

Bill Holshevnikoff
Power of Lighting, Inc.

Posted on 04.09.2018 - 18:13:32 PST
We just watched the American Pickers show and it was one of the most interesting shows. Everything this collector had was very nice and well displayed. Thank you for sharing your collection Jim McCormick.