Friday, March 12, 2010

The Wine Barn

One Friday afternoon a few years ago, the members of the Antonio's Wine Tasting Group were sitting around doing what we do best (drinking and talking) when the topic of The Wine Barn Grand Opening Tasting came up.  I did not know Andrew Montoya (owner of The Wine Barn) at the time but everyone said that he was a great guy and it would be a lot of fun so I decided to go.  As I negotiated the route from the I-4 exit to the location, I thought this guy had better be good because this truly was a destination location.  Andrew was manning the first table as you went into the store and was smilingly pouring for all comers while trying to explain the qualities of the array of wines on his pouring table.  A few days after the tasting my friend Steve E. called me and asked if I had noticed the 1996 L'Evangile in the store and indicated that it was listed at a very attractive price.  I called Andrew immediately and asked him to set aside a number of bottles for me and the dialogue which we had when I came by to pick the wines up convinced me that he was someone that consumers would enjoy buying wines from.

Andrew was born in Medellin, Colombia and came to the U.S. for the first time when he was five years old.  He returned to Medellin to attend middle school when he was 15 and during that time developed a lifelong love and appreciation of flavors while spending time in his mother's kitchen.  He was introduced to wines by a French family residing in Medellin and travelled to France to do vineyard work with one of their sons.

Rather than going into the family business in Medellin (printing and packing), Andrew came back to the U.S. and began his climb up the ladder with a tip-based job at Race Rock.  His love of wine led him to take a distance learning course in winemaking from UC Davis where he was introduced to the aroma wheel by its inventor Dr. Ann Noble.  This encounter was the catalyst that launched him on a path to develop a better understanding of the aromas and flavors in wine.  He sought to develop a nose for wines by buying the flavors in the aroma wheel and adding them to a base wine in order to detect how these flavors manifested in a wine.

During this time he became very interested in wine education and began writing a blog on wine and wine tasting.  Following reader queries, he listed some of his wines on the blog and was rewarded with some sales, leading him to posit that there was an opportunity for education-driven online wine sales. He tested this model by continuing to work during the day while doing order fulfillment and shipping during the evenings and on weekends.  He negotiated with the Florida Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco to gain a license to sell wines without having a physical presence -- a first.

After working the online model for a while, Andrew decided that he needed a brick and mortar facility.  He wanted something that was centrally located and that would not drive his overhead up dramatically.  He competes on giving his customer the best cost he can and high overhead plays havoc with that model.  The current location best met his criteria.  It has very high ceilings and is somewhat spartan.  The focus is on the wines rather than beautiful racks. Parker scores and reviews are provided for each wine in the store.

The team at The Wine Barn is one of the best wine retail teams in the metro-Orlando area.  They bring together a wealth of talent, a wealth of experience, and a knowledge of wines and wine drinkers that is unparalleled in the space.  Andrew's enthusiasm, knowledge, and constant smile is Irish-publike in drawing you in.  His love of Burgundies and his knowledge of Spanish and South American wines and wine regions places a customer in a good place. The quiet assurance of Gary Tupper, hardly raising his eyes from the computer screen but knowing exactly where you are and what you need, and always ready with a knowledgeable insight into the wine at hand.  And Fidel! What can I say.  Enjoy spending time with him.  Guy after my own heart in that all he wants to do is talk about wine.  Get a life Fidel.  The Wine Barn has replaced its clunky, old web site with a new version and Fidel is responsible for that initiative in addition to all web-based and electronic activities.

My introduction to The Wine Barn was a kickoff wine pouring.  That event was held in the store and, at the time, it was considered a big tasting.  Late last year I went to one of their tastings which spanned multiple tents in the parking lot and the driving areas outside the store.  In addition to these large events, the Barn puts on a number of small, tightly focused, high-profile tastings.  Two of the most recent (Clash of the Spanish Titans and Remoissenet) have been covered on this blog in previous posts.

Going forward, Andrew does not want to become a wine superstore.  He wants to bring wine education more centrally into focus in the overall venture.  He may place a mezzanine in the current structure -- the high ceilings would allow that -- to serve as an education locale.

Great guys.  Great prices.  Be careful of the sharp turn onto 34th street from Orange Blossom Trail; especially if you are coming from I-4 West.


  1. Just what we need another person in this town kissing Montoya HUGE EGO! Yes I want to buy a wine cause Montoya rated it 96pts. When did Robert Pakeer die and crown him Pope? There are some GREAT wine stores in this town with knowledgeable, down to earth, very friendly people, who go out of their way to try to bring you the best prices. There is a reason most wine reps in this town can’t stand WB, save for Stacole where Montoya literally attends their sales meetings every month. Gota ask your self is that 96pts Montoya rated wine for $12.99 really that good or a $2.00 a bottle Stacole warehouse cleanout. Now look, shop where you like. I just get so sick out how this town will anoint a person as the second coming of Bacchus and completely forget about all the others stores who have been giving great service to you for years. Hey remember Tim? Remember when you thought he was your savior? Does his pallet suddenly suck now? What about Jay on Edgewater? Does he not STILL have the best back room in town? Ahh but that brings up a great point. Jay won’t sell you wines from his back room all the time, will he? Why should he? Most of you drive all over town cherry picking shop after shop and then bitch at store if it’s a dollar or two more expensive than say Total or WB. You know something if you took the time to get to know one or two local wine geeks close to your house, you could save $20 on gas and pay that extra $1-$5 to support a few local merchants. Heaven forbid someone with a pallet get to REALLY know your personalized taste and make recommendations JUST for you, as opposed to a mass email blast with 90+pts plastered everywhere just to move CRAP! You know Orlando has a terrible wine scene and I truly believe the reason it has never gotten any better is because of this constant trend where there can only be one palette in Orlando at a time. I always thought retail wine should be about your palette not the wine salesman. You see a good wine buyer should NOT buy a wine just because he or she likes it, they should buy it because they know their customers palette and know THEY will like it. The best part of wine buying is when you are tasting through hundreds of wines each week and you come across a wine and go “WOW this would be perfect for Jeff, Keith, and Lisa! I’ll take a case.” Then when they come into the shop that week and ask what’s new, and you tell them about the 2 great new wines ya got. That you brought the wines in because, while tasting all week you said this wine would be perfect for them. There is so much more I could say and that I know but I’ll end this rant here. Hope this may spark some personal reflection in both the blogger and the readers of this blog.

  2. Mr. Anonymous, carry a lot of hate feelings my friend. You are either a frustrated business person or with life in general, or you are just burning green with jealousy.

    By your comments it is sadly very clear that you don't know Andres or The Wine Barn team at all. They are the most unpretentious group of gentlemen around. Montoya's passion for wine is honest and contagious, that is why people love the store.

    I'm sure Andres will take your comments as a complement, as you yourself said he is the second coming of Bacchus or maybe even the next Robert Parker. Andres is a humble guy and I'm sure he is honored by the special recognition.

    I am sorry about your grief Mr. Anonymous. Good luck in life and I hope things get better for you.


  3. Really Anonymous??
    Imagine this.....A wine shop with two full time classically trained sommeliers and a UC Davis trained former winemaker who all three have been buying wines for the best hotels, restaraunts, and country clubs in Orlando at a customers IMMEDIATE disposal....and the best prices in Florida on top of that(by the way they always remember my name). Why would you hate that?? Maybe if you spent more time taking care of your guests instead of going on alcohol infused rants online you might be so busy taking care of customers you won't have time to cry about somebody else's business. By the way, with all the money your making ripping off your guests maybe you should invest in a spell check.....

  4. To anonymous #2, what exactly is a "classically trained sommelier"?

    While I don't agree with everything from anonymous #1, I do think that developing a rapport with any quality local wine merchant will save you far more agony and money than buying the latest closeout deal from whoever sent you an email that day.

    Wines on closeout are there for one reason, they were overpriced to begin with. So a formerly $30 bottle on deal for $2 isn't such a good deal, after all, it's just what the wine should have been priced at to begin with.

    And I do agree that retailers that rely solely on scores to sell wine are a lazy, unreliable bunch of idiots.

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