A LITTLE bit of California exists within Liverpool’s Albert Dock – at least in the mind of James McGrory and his wife Karen.
The two wine buffs got the inspiration for their wine bar Vinea while honeymooning in the sunshine state’s Napa Valley wine region.
Within two years Mr McGrory, 41, had relinquished his job in sales and marketing in the engineering sector to open Vinea.
His wife, a financial adviser, manages the accounts.
But in the intervening four years the venture has grown into much more than a wine bar, with almost 200 different varieties on offer and a thriving operation offering wine tastings and events aimed at the corporate sector.
Mr McGrory said: “It was a big, bold move for me and my wife, but we wanted to run our own business.”
He undertook several courses in wines and initially the couple ran an online wine business, but he said: “We realised – with the competition out there – we couldn’t compete with the bigger companies.”
So they chose the Albert Dock as the ideal venue for their business, which has since benefited from nearby developments such as the ECHO Arena and BT Convention Centre and hotels such as Staybridge Suites and Jurys.
Mr McGrory said: “We originally opened as a wine bar.
“If you liked the wine you could buy it to take away, at just above supermarket prices.
“When we opened we had wines more suited to restaurants.”
Mr McGrory, who managed the bar for the first year, now has three full-time and two part-time staff, including business development manager Dan Harwood, 25, who has helped establish the bar’s specialism in its offer, which can retail from £5 to £60 for a bottle of wine, or £250 for Crystal champagne.
Mr McGrory said: “We are really happy with what we have achieved.
“I have pushed away a bit now because I have Dan.
“He runs wine tasting courses and people can get a qualification as a wine taster.”
Mr Harwood, who is a qualified wine taster, runs a variety of Wine Spirits Education Trust (WSET) courses that can be tailored from a one-day session to an eight week course.
He explained: “We are targeting businesses because we can deliver corporate away days and can do courses in one day of six hours.
“They can be team bonding exercises and they can sit the WSET examination.”
He previously worked on the bar for Liverpool restaurant Heathcotes and the Hope Street Hotel and said: “It was a casual interest in wine then, but now it is a vocation.”
Mr McGrory said Vinea aims to provide more wine tasting foundation courses throughout this year to complement their regular wine tastings that are frequently sold out, helped by the opening of the nearby Arena and Convention Centre.