Cree Wine Company brings a world of wine to Hampton
In his travels to France, Italy, California and beyond, Chris Cree never forgot his Jersey roots.
After years of connecting with wineries, learning the industry, starting his own business and becoming a certified Master of Wine, Cree opened his first restaurant/wine bar this year. Inside the historic Perryville Inn in Hampton, Cree Wine Company offers all kinds of wines from around the world, with prices ranging from $10 to $1,000 a bottle. The wines come mainly from small family estates, inspired by the visits of the Crees to the regions of the world.
Every weekend, Cree Wine Company offers wine education classes, with spirits classes on weeknights. In April, the company organized a Tour de France, introducing guests to a new region and its wines every Sunday.
As New Jersey’s only Master of Wine, Cree knew that one day his experience in the wine industry would lead him to where he is today.
“There’s always been an idea of trying to create a place where food and wine come together,” he says, “where wine can be less intimidating and people can enjoy it in a comfortable place.”
You have been involved in food and wine for over 40 years. What drew you to the industry?
Chris Cris: I have been interested in food since I was a child. I cooked with my mother and we watched Julia Child on TV. When I entered my teenage years, wine became a big part of it. I got a job at a liquor store and thought it would just be a way to make some money before I went to college, but the doors kept opening in the wine business . I worked there for probably five years and after that I traveled a lot around the world. I have made connections with wineries all over the world, from California to Europe.
What does it take to become a Master of Wine?
There was no high level business degree for the wine trade, so the institute was set up in London to test and certify people in the business. The exam takes place over four days and sections include grape growing, wine business, wine making and blind taste testing, where you have to identify the country, region, production method etc. . They began to organize the courses in the United States. in 1989, so I went in 1993 and passed in 1996.
Do you have a favorite wine region?
There are so many ! I must say that Burgundy is a place that I really appreciate. The wines are fantastic and this is probably the most important place to visit, taste wine and find out what’s going on. I love going to Italy, especially Piedmont and Tuscany. There are so many beautiful regions; it’s hard to choose a favorite.
Have you always wanted to open your own wine bar?
Yeah, it was kind of always in the back of my head. It’s inspired by some of the places I’ve been and my experiences visiting and tasting wine. An example is Robert Sinskey in California, who has a fantastic food and wine experience. It’s a culmination of things I’ve learned and seen and wanted to bring back to New Jersey for people to experience.
Cree Wine Company is located in what was the Perryville Inn. What attracted you to this historic place?
I’ve always had it in the back of my mind. This is an 1813 brick farmhouse and inn. I started going to the Perryville Inn many years ago when it was owned by the Pfenninger family. I had a wine store in Clinton, and I hosted dinner parties and wine tastings there. It was full of good memories. It closed in 2012 and reopened as a barbecue venue. When the opportunity presented itself last year, I knew it was the right time to do it.
What does the renovated space look like?
It’s an old building, so it needed a lot of work. I had a fantastic designer, Suzanne Perez, and she pushed me to revamp the place a bit to make it more modern. Everything is very comfortable and welcoming. There’s a bar, tasting lounge, and wine studio, which doubles as a private event space. We also give our courses and our oenological dinners there. We have a small patio which will be open when it gets warmer.
What kind of food does the kitchen offer?
I met chef AJ Sankofa and we immediately clicked. He is super talented. We call the dishes to share or to associate. We have everything from charcuterie boards, Brussels sprouts, salads, seafood stew, steak, really everything. We have a fantastic dish, the Sicilian Fried Chicken, which seems to be everyone’s favourite. We have a wide range of things that change with the season and what we feature. Many dishes are based on regions of the world and are accompanied by wines from there.
What’s it like to open your own place?
Fantastic. In addition to restoring and bringing back this very old and beautiful building, there is a lot going on in Hunterdon County. Farm to table, cheese makers, winemakers, cider houses; it really is a dynamic place. I’m just happy to go to work and have a great team that provides a great environment. I have fun!
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