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‘American Pickers’ highlights Petaluma’s wine industry collection

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It began at a garage sale in a Petaluma barn 30 years ago. Jim McCormick was pawing through a pile of what to some looked like old junk.

There, in a box, he discovered a bone-handled Thompson mechanical corkscrew. There was a bit of rust on the screw, and McCormick paid the asking price — $20 — without haggling. He cleaned it up and, a few days later, sold it to a collector for $350.

Thirty years later, Jim McCormick’s passion for collecting antiquities from the wine industry has led him to amass 4,500 artifacts, nearly spawned a museum and landed him a spot on a popular cable TV show.

But McCormick, who keeps his collection in a downtown Petaluma studio and four barns on the outskirts of town, is ready to give it all up and has listed each item for sale.

“I’m not getting any younger,” said McCormick, 75. “It’s time to let it go into the world.”

Last spring, the History Channel program “American Pickers,” a reality show about two antique dealers who travel the country “picking” through peoples’ collections looking for that rare treasure, announced it was filming in the North Bay. The producers were looking for a few good hoarders, and McCormick sent them pictures of his Wine and Vine Things collection, which includes vintage wine presses, antique bottles and 900 corkscrews.

Within days, a producer flew out to take a look, and soon a small army of camera, lighting and sound specialists were filming at the former chicken farm north of Petaluma.

“They came out with 15 vehicles,” said McCormick, who raised three children in Novato and moved to Petaluma 30 years ago. “It was pretty cool. They bought a bunch of stuff. It was really a great experience for me. I got my 15 minutes of fame.”

The “American Pickers” episode originally aired on Monday, but will be rebroadcast on the History Channel and on History.com. In the episode, “Ripe For The Picking,” Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz scrutinize and gush over McCormick’s collection.

“Mike and Frank are in Napa Valley but rather than pick grapes they pick one of the largest wine related collections in the world before the owner shouts ‘last call,’” according to the show’s website.

McCormick said he hopes the show stirs interest in potential buyers. He decided to break up his collection after plans for a California Wine Museum fell through.

Hugh Futrell, the developer who revamped downtown Santa Rosa’s AT&T building, planned to dedicate a space for McCormick’s collection, but fundraising for the museum never materialized.

“I worked really hard to make the museum happen,” McCormick said. “It just didn’t happen. You’d think the second largest industry in the state would have its own museum, but it doesn’t.”

In the corner of one of McCormick’s dusty barns is a piece of a wine press that served the Vallejo Adobe in the 1840s. Other pieces include an old wagon that carried wine barrels and several paintings depicting the harvest.

McCormick declined to put a value on the collection, but said it would be much more expensive to seek out each individual piece. Much of the added value comes from his 30 years of painstaking curation.

“It’s been a lot of my life putting it together,” he said. “It has taken a toll.”

Even though he is trying to offload his treasures, McCormick said he can’t help but by an occasional piece that strikes his fancy.

“I do have that obsession,” he said. “I’m a bit of a hoarder, I guess.”

McCormick has tried to sell the entire collection as a whole, but so far hasn’t found any luck. Now that he is selling the individual pieces, he hopes the buyers appreciate the history that they are acquiring.

“I really want this stuff to go to good homes,” he said. “It’s been a passion, it’s been a love. There’s a story behind everything. That’s what I have to offer, the story.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)