“I have learned, the older I get, that dreams are one thing and realities are the other,” Yellymary Montalvo told me last November during an interview for the UnWineding podcast. “It was a very nice dream, but it’s a very challenging business — a wine bar.” 

Yesterday, the energetic and outspoken owner of Lusia’s Cellar in downtown Sanford announced on social media that she and her husband and co-owner Sascha Weyer are getting out of that challenging business at the end of July.

Prioritizing health

“The last year was extremely challenging financially and emotionally due to the COVID 19 pandemic,” Yellymary wrote on Facebook.

The reopening has been physically challenging too, and her health was a major factor in the difficult decision to close. A few years ago, she was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition that can cause severe fatigue and joint pain.

The emergence from the pandemic has been lucrative for Luisa’s Cellar, she says, with more guests to serve and more events to host; but the additional responsibilities took a toll on her body. Eventually, she found herself unable to sustain the long hours required to run the bar.

Yellymary Montalvo, co-owner of Luisa’s Cellar in Sanford, leads a wine webinar in April 2020.

“To continue we would have to hire more people in an economic environment that has made this a difficult enterprise,” she wrote in her post.

Luisa’s will continue normal bar and food service through July 18 and will host several tastings and events during the remainder of the month. After that, Yellymary and Sascha will embark on a new adventure — in a new state.

Change of pace — and place

The dynamic couple plans to move to Asheville, North Carolina, where Yellymary will open The North Carolina Wine Academy, offering classes and certifications through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET).

“We have been visiting Asheville for the last 10 years,” she wrote, “and each time it got a little harder to leave it behind.”

She also told me last Fall that competition in the Central Florida wine market had been challenging.

“We have such a thriving wine scene,” she said, “but it thins out the market for somebody like me who came late in the game.”

Passion for teaching wine

Even then, the academic side of wine seemed to be overshadowing Yellymary’s enthusiasm for the bar business.

“My passion is teaching wine, it’s telling people about wine,” she said at the time. “I think that is the call.”

She has racked up an impressive number of wine qualifications over the years, including a Level 3 WSET certification and a designation as a Spanish Wine Scholar.

She’ll put those studies to work at her new academy, where she also plans to offer consumer tastings and tours of area vineyards and wineries.

This space will become The North Carolina Wine Academy in downtown Asheville. (Courtesy Yellymary Montalvo)

“The aim is to regain some control of our life, have some more time to spend with family and friends and take care of my health,” Yellymary wrote on Facebook.

“There will be less days of work and less hours on my feet and I will be doing what I truly love: talking and teaching about wine!”

One foot in Florida

I’ll be speaking with Yellymary this week for a special UnWineding episode, where she promises to share more details about her decision to close the bar and her plans for the future.

She’s already assured her followers that she won’t leave Central Florida behind completely — at least not immediately.

She and Sascha have a year left on their lease for the two-story brick building that’s been home to Luisa’s Cellar since 2017, and they plan to return every few weeks to host tastings and special events. The space will also be available to rent for weddings and private events.

“This will not be a ‘GOODBYE,” she wrote in her post, “but ‘UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN.'”

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