enoteca-direct-wine-shop-comes-to-fruition

It took a pandemic to finally make Joe Cannastraci’s dream of having a wine shop come to fruition.

“I love selling wine; it’s my passion,” Cannastraci says. “I’d been looking for a suitable location in Los Gatos for about three years.”

Cannastraci and business partner Mike Guerra have two decades of selling wine behind them. They both worked at the Wine Club in Santa Clara. From there, Guerra went to K&L, and Cannastraci became a founding manager of Vintage Wine Merchants at Santana Row.

When they started Enoteca La Storia in 2010, they saw it as more of a wine retailer with food. But their business model evolved into a full-service restaurant with a bottle shop.

“We thought it would be mostly wine bottle sales with some food to go,” Cannastraci says, “but customers wanted a more service-oriented environment and serious food.”

Managing the new model wasn’t easy, he adds.

“It’s tricky to establish an effective relationship between retail and the hospitality component. The restaurant side is separate from retail, and is not inventory-based. Customers inevitably want to buy a bottle to go, which comes from the retail side. The pricing is done completely differently. You can’t put these different purchases on the same bill. It’s just a hassle.”

Cannistraci says it took him and Guerra 10 years to realize the inefficiency of the original setup.

“We had to go through a real learning curve, but we realized that the wine club part was very successful,” he adds. “We’ve been building a really cool platform for mom-and-pop restaurants to offer wine clubs to their patrons. We basically operate the program and we pay them a commission. It’s unencumbered dollars for the restaurant.

“And then the pandemic hit. Basically, the restaurant business went into a crisis.”

Cannastraci decided to focus on establishing a retail wine shop in the former La Tavola location next-door to The Bywater on North Santa Cruz Avenue. It also happens to be walking distance from Cannastraci’s home and garden, where he grows sought-after heirloom tomatoes.

“The location and everything was ideal,” he says, “but I didn’t want to spend $20,000 and months and months going through the hassle of permits.”

He explained the situation to Monica Renn, economic vitality manager for the town of Los Gatos, and she worked with him to streamline the process. He called the Alcoholic Beverage Control, and a rep showed up immediately and expedited the paperwork.

Cannastraci credits local business owners Jim Foley and Alex Hult for working with the town to make it easier for businesses to move forward during the economic slowdown.

“What would have taken eight to 10 months prior to COVID took 10 weeks max,” he says. “And it didn’t cost me $20k!”

He quickly set about building his own wine shelving and storage in the new shop, where there’s sufficient outdoor seating for future tastings. He’s applied for a tasting license and hopes to have that in place in a month or so.

The shop stocks imports as well as a wide variety of local wines (Alfaro, Big Basin, Florez, LIOCO, Mount Eden, Tessier), and features shelf talkers written by Guerra, an advanced sommelier and wine educator, and managing partner, Ryan Smith, a certified sommelier who has been with Enoteca la Storia for five years and was previously with Testarossa.

Enoteca Direct, at 534 N. Santa Cruz Ave., offers free delivery on orders of over $200 in Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Saratoga, and is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-7p.m., and on Sundays, noon-5 p.m.  And yes, they have a wine club. entocadirect.net; 408-402-5842

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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