Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association.

J.L. Sousa/Register

Andy Renda, co-owner with Garrett Ahnfeldt of the Wine Thief, at the corner of First and McKinstry, knows without a doubt that wine is going to be his life’s work.

Twelve years ago, he quit his job, sold everything he had, and moved from Massachusetts to Napa to pursue his passion.

“I had to,” he said. “Coming to Napa was like coming to Mecca.”

Renda and Ahnfeldt have put together a broad spectrum of artisanal, boutique wines that guests can enjoy in a casual tasting. Groups can arrange to taste wines in a more intimate setting, accompanied with cheese and charcuterie.

The nine labels the Wine Thief features include one wine that Renda produces, Solamente; another that he produces with Jarred Pearce, AJ Pearce Wines; one from Ahnfeldt’s G Wine Cellars; and another, Hailstone Vineyards, that Ahnfeldt produces with a partner.

That the Wine Thief has been very well received is no surprise. For Renda, it’s culmination of his life’s experience.

He started scrubbing pots and pans in a restaurant at age 14. At 17, he went to work for “The Country Club,” world known as the host of three U.S. Opens, a Ryder Cup, and for having created the club sandwich.

Renda eventually worked in the main kitchen. “I got exposure to unbelievably talented chefs.” He watched club members dine lavishly, drinking wines they kept in their wine lockers. “I could get used to this,” he thought.

At 21, he segued to a wine shop in Newton, Mass., and found his passion in wine. By 29, Renda could no longer resist the pull of Napa.

His girlfriend Kelly — now his wife and the mother of their two children, Max and Addie — gave up her business, shipped her car out here and drove across country with Renda.

“I couldn’t have done this without her support. No question about it.” They arrived here without jobs, a place to live, or much of anything else.

Renda visited Vintners Collective, which he was familiar with, to apply for a job. He was offered a glass of wine while waiting for his interview.

“I’ll never forget that wine — a 2000 Richard Perry Cabernet Sauvignon,” said Renda, with the look of a man smitten.

Garrett Murphy, the owner of Vintners Collective, loved Renda’s credentials, but worried that he didn’t have any Napa contacts and feared he might not be successful.

“I looked at him and said, ‘I just sold everything I have and moved 3,400 miles to get here. Trust me, I am motivated to succeed.’”

He got the job. Soon promoted to director of sales, he stayed for 10 years before opening the Wine Thief with Ahnfeldt.

Trying to decide on a name for their business was a challenge, until Ahnfeldt suggested the Wine Thief.

“It’s brilliant,” said Renda, “A double entendre that’s fun.”

The Wine Thief is open daily, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Spoil yourself, and stop in for a taste of really good wine.

See you downtown!

Craig Smith is the executive director of the Downtown Napa Association. Reach him at 257-0322 or craig@donapa.com.

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