Golden Hour Wine sits on a quiet side street a couple of blocks from New Broad Street, Baldwin Park’s main drag. Clocking in at only 650 square feet, it’s tiny a tiny space, but beautifully appointed, and it somehow manages not to feel the least bit cramped, despite having over 600 different wines on display.
Golden Hour has been open since April of this year, and to say its selection is eclectic would be an understatement. Owner Heather LaVine’s laser focus on natural wines from the Old World means you’re more likely to find a pinot noir from Germany or Switzerland than from California. All but the nerdiest wine lovers will encounter grapes they’ve never heard of from places they didn’t know wine was made, and even the nerdiest among us will make plenty of new discoveries.
But here’s the thing — LaVine finds a way to talk to people about her obscure bottles in a way that normalizes them, rather than playing up the geek factor.
Conversation comes naturally
“Wine for me is always about conversation,” she said. “It’s more about chatting with guests as they come through the door, not out-of-the-gate educating them on exactly what I do or what natural wine is.”
In other words, she doesn’t feel the need to evangelize about the virtues of natural wine and the evils of anything that, for her, would fall outside that definition. She simply tries to draw out her customers’ preferences and then recommends a bottle she thinks they’ll enjoy.
On a recent visit, I overheard a first-time guest asking for recommendations for a bottle to give her mom. LaVine didn’t skip a beat as she guided her to the selection of wines from the Canary Islands, extolling their deliciousness rather than their trendy sommelier street cred.
While Golden Hour is primarily a retail shop, there’s always something open for tasting — another good conversation starter. LaVine also features two or three rotating wines by the glass each day, and she plans to start hosting after-hours tasting events as well.
When it comes to her definition of natural wine – and everyone gets to define it for themselves, since there’s no legal definition (except in France, but that’s another story) – she’s not too dogmatic. She insists on wines from small producers that work with grapes grown in vineyards that are practicing organic at a minimum, and she’s a stickler for native yeast fermentation. But, she tells me, she has a “classic palate,” so while some of her selections have the wild aromas and flavors common to natural wines, she steers clear of anything that’s actually flawed.
Beginnings in Upstate NY
Golden Hour is by no means LaVine’s first rodeo when it comes to wine and hospitality. She moved to Orlando last year from Troy, New York, where she was co-owner of six businesses under the Clark House Hospitality group umbrella.
The first to open was a wine bar called Lucas Confectionary. When it launched in 2012, it was downtown Troy’s first true wine bar, but LaVine didn’t fall back on crowd pleasing selections. She had fallen in love with natural wine on a visit to Terroir in San Francisco, and she was determined to champion the category in her new establishment.
Fast forward seven years, and Clark House had grown to encompass a restaurant, cafe, wine shop, and tavern, among other establishments. Business was booming, but LaVine needed a change.
“I realized that, while I loved managing the team and the businesses … I missed how it had all started, and I really wanted to step back and focus and do things on my own,” she said in an interview for an upcoming episode of the UnWineding podcast.
Early last year, she sold her stake in Clark House to her business partner — and ex-husband — and moved south.
LaVine was looking for a fresh start in a new city. Orlando was on her radar because her parents – like so many New Yorkers – live here half the year. But her short list included stiff competition from places like Austin, Denver, and Washington, DC.
The more she researched, though, the more she felt Orlando sucking her in. In the end, it was the region’s diverse culinary scene that tipped the scales.
“The depth of the international food here in Orlando is just awesome,” she said. “None of us could ever discover all of it.”
As she began to learn about the local wine community, she realized that was an advantage too.
“There is an actual Orlando Wine Scene — there wasn’t one in Troy,” she said. “So when people come through the doors here at Golden Hour, the openness to conversation and thinking outside the box … it’s there.”
She was attracted to the Baldwin Park space in part because there were no wine-focused businesses in the neighborhood, so she felt there was a natural gap to be filled. She also liked the fact that she could live in the townhouse behind the shop. But perhaps most importantly, Baldwin is one of the region’s relatively few walkable areas.
“Somebody can be walking by with their pup and pop in on their way home to make dinner and grab a bottle of wine,” she said.
That dynamic also contributes to the kind of “community gathering space” she valued so highly in the early days at her bar in Troy. Her tiny new space encourages connection too.
“I just want folks to feel comfortable coming into this shop and having a conversation,” she said. “That’s what I love about this space, and that’s what I love about wine.”
Golden Hour Wine is located at 1560 Lake Baldwin Lane in Baldwin Park. It’s open Thursday through Monday 2-8pm and plans to move to seven days a week operations later this month.
Golden Hour’s wine club offers members three wines each month and a 10% discount on all purchases for a cost of $80 per month.
Delivery is available throughout the Orlando area.