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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
04.30.08

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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Vintage Chic: J-P Correa left the world of fashion to become a tastemaker of a different sort.

Vinocruz'n

J-P Correa is the on-site tour guide at the boutique treasury of all-star Santa Cruz Mountains wines known as Vinocruz

By Christina Waters


J-P Correa's impish grin widens. "Ninety-nine percent of the time I make the right match between customer and wine."

No surprise there, since the proprietor of Vinocruz spent a 20-year career making connections between customer tastes and product trends in the world of high fashion. Searching out and showcasing the new, encouraging customers to sample--that's what the Vinocruz proprietor does at the sleek downtown enoteca he calls "a little nook and cranny place." Representing more than 50 wineries and still adding inventory to its current 200-plus wines, Vinocruz is a vintage godsend.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal nailed Vinocruz firmly to the wine map, praising the store's wide-ranging selection of vintages from small-production microwineries rarely open to the public. Correa is in his element at the shop's Saturday winemaker events, like the recent visit from the Kathryn Kennedy Winery folks that packed the place to the max. Watching Correa work the room, it's hard to believe that our flourishing viticultural area ever lacked its own centrally located wine showroom. But it did. So two years ago the entrepreneurial partnership of Correa and Jeffrey Kongslie decided to correct that error and started up an all-local wine shop we could call our own.

In the rag trade for 20 years, traveling constantly for Geoffrey Beene and then for Barney's--to London, Paris, Hamburg, Milan--Correa fled New York after 9/11. "I really needed to get out of New York," he says with a philosophical shrug. "I was working seven days a week, hadn't had a vacation for years." Correa fell in love with the Bay Area, took a position at The Gap and started exploring Napa with winemaker Robert Sinskey and his restaurateur wife. "Food and wine really got to me, " he confesses happily.

After meeting Kongslie, Correa moved to Santa Cruz and the two began visiting as many wineries as possible. "I was totally blown away by the lack of pretense, and the same passion in winemakers that I had found in the design industry," he says. He also started noticing just how many high-quality but relatively unknown wineries were located here. "I was shocked that no one had opened an enoteca representing all these wineries." With Kongslie's encouragement, Correa took the plunge, drew up a business plan, did his online homework and in six months was up and running.

"The Santa Cruz appellation," Correa concedes, "is defined by having no definition, no single identity--we do so many varietals so well. That's a challenge." Another challenge, Correa explains, choosing his words carefully, "is to offer wines that uphold our standards and yet are affordable. It's a balancing act." The Vinocruz tasting area, a long gleaming chrome table, offers pours of five wines, in rotation, giving people "a chance to taste a selection from across the appellation," he explains. The $9 tasting fee, which includes user-friendly wine lore, nuts, cheese and crackers, insures that those who are serious have a chance to linger, enjoy and learn.

"It turns me on to introduce new wine to people," he enthuses. "I try to keep the inventory low and keep the product fresh," although he acknowledges that because "we're not a chain store, we can't get those large-purchase discounts." A brief pout underscores this remark.

What Vinocruz can offer that BevMo doesn't is service. "I'm here every day. I know my customers," Correa beams. "I can order according to their tastes, and guide them toward things I know will match what they want."

As to why he's good at what he does, Correa guesses it might have something to do with his people skills. "I like being in touch with people--and I can get along with a lot of different people." Watching him meet 'n' greet at the recent Kathryn Kennedy tasting, darting through clusters of tasters, brandishing fresh glasses, moving bottles up to the cash register, making introductions, it's easy to see why Vinocruz works. Correa admits that after a year and a half of day-in, day-out eno-biz, he wouldn't mind taking a trip to Europe. "I miss Europeans in general," he says wistfully. "They have such passion for wine and long, long meals."



VINOCRUZ

Address: 25 Front St., Suite 101, Santa Cruz

Phone: 831.426.8466

Hours: 11am-7pm Monday-Thursday,
11am-8pm Friday-Saturday and noon-6pm Sunday


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