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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
De vine view: Vino Prima is an idea whose time has come.

Upon The Wine-Dark Sea

Vino Prima bets on a winning formula: wine bar plus view.

By Christina Waters

IF THE OLD MANTRA "location, location, location" still retains its street cred, then Vino Prima is loaded with strategic advantage. Located high above the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf--across the second-floor walkway from Olitas---Vino Prima is literally suspended over the water. If you reach out your arms (metaphorically speaking) you could touch the Boardwalk, Casino and Big Dipper roller coaster with one hand, and the lighthouse on West Cliff Drive with the other. In short, this wine bar specializes in seriously panoramic views. Oh, and there's wine too.

Last weekend I strolled over for a look and found that not only does Vino Prima offer a boon to every out-of-town visitor--a chance to sample local and California wines by the glass and by the flight--but other value-added perks as well. Hawaiian slack-key guitar masters were enthralling the crowd gathered for a Polynesian Festival. The sounds of steel guitar swirled up into the wine bar's tasting room, where visitors were busy sampling the wares.

"Cozy" is how you'd have to describe the laid-back atmosphere. The tasting room staff lets the wines do most of the talking, and the feeling is distinctly low-pressure. On my latest visit the featured winery was Aromas-based River Run, whose winemaker, J.P. Pawloski, makes some of the most consistent and appealing examples of Santa Cruz Mountains varietals. Every Wednesday the tasting bar features a new winery. For $12 you can sample four to five pours, get acquainted with the regional style and almost always find something you absolutely have to buy and take home to regions where there is neither surf nor sand.

In business for close to one year, Vino Prima is a blatantly brilliant idea by proprietors Larry and Debby Jackson and Stacey Rennert. Most tourists sooner or later end up strolling out along our wharf. Where better to soak up the "only-in-Santa-Cruz" atmosphere of waves, beach, seagulls and open-air fish markets? But increasingly savvy visitors, as well as we wine-loving locals, want to taste some regionally specific wine when out on the wharf.

The logic of this wine bar-with-a-view is impeccable. I saw a hefty selection of California's greatest oenological hits lining one wall--over 120 different labels are on offer, with plenty of local premiums in the all-California mix, from Alfaro to Windy Oaks.

In addition to tasting bar pours, Vino Prima's offers a half-dozen flights priced from $10 to $15, which allow for an interesting cross-referencing of styles, varietals and vintages. The menu offers cheese and salami platters to go with all those tempting wines.

Sitting for a while, listening to slack-key classics and sampling a flight of "Wicked Good Reds" that included a robust Silver Mountain '05 Syrah, I remembered why I'm smug about the whole idea of summer in Santa Cruz.

A Wine to Love
Rustically elegant, tinged with mint, sassafras and roses, is this dreamy Spanish red. It's the 2007 Guimaro "Amandi" Mencia (that's the grape) from Ribeira Sacra. $17 at Soif.


Address: 55B Municipal Wharf (above Marini's), Santa Cruz

Phone: 831.426.0750

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