The Inquisitor Wine Company: How two Orlando friends turned a “pipe dream” into a local importer of private label South African wines

On June 18, 2016, a small group of sommeliers from some of Orlando’s swankiest dining spots sat down for an invitation-only blind tasting. Hosts Laura Fletcher, then 29, and Christie Briscoe, then 23, were good friends and colleagues at Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, where they worked in sales and marketing. But this event was about something completely different.

They poured tastes from a few well known, high end bottles alongside samples from a largely unknown South African winemaker, Christian Kuun. His wines got good reviews, sometimes beating out the big names.

“In that moment, I was like, ok it can happen,” said Christie, whose last name is now McLeod.

“We looked at each other,” Fletcher recalls, and thought, “let’s do this.”

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England’s Camel Valley Vineyards Pulling Back from US Market

On a stone terrace in the county of Cornwall, overlooking rolling hills blanketed with vines and fields, Camel Valley Vineyards founder Bob Lindo beams with pride as he shows off award after award to visitors sipping on the tasty fruits of his labor.

This winery is one of England’s most decorated, at the forefront of the country’s surging wine business. Producers here are winning plenty of awards, particularly for their bubbly, which has come out ahead of Champagne on enough occasions to make a Frenchman blush.

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Founder Bob Lindo welcomes guests on the terrace at Camel Valley Vineyards in Cornwall.

In 2016, the UK wine industry made a collective commitment to a tenfold increase in exports over five years, and American wine lovers are starting to reap the benefits. Just under two years ago, Camel Valley wines were part of the first full shipping container of English wine ever sent to a foreign shore; they were bound for the US.

Here in Orlando, though, you still have to look hard to find British bubbly. Wine Bar George serves a brut from producer Digby Fine English; Tim’s Wine Market Orlando has Ridgeview in stock.

But Camel Valley is not available in Florida, and sadly, that’s not likely to change. Bob Lindo says he’s pulling back from the US market.

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Spotlight on South Africa, Bonny Doon is Back, Luxapalooza Tasting

If you love South African wine – or if you want to learn more about it – listen up and act fast! Over the next eleven days – including today – you’ll have the opportunity to meet and taste with five South African winemakers at two events right here in Orlando.

Tonight, South African distributor Pascal Schildt brings producers Tremayne Smith and Ginny Povall to Tim’s Orlando to pour their wines, including Black Smith, Three Foxes, Big Flower and Botanica.

A week from Monday (May 14), Swirlery hosts a South African Braai (aka barbecue) featuring Bruwer Raats from Raats Family Wines, Carl van der Merwe of DeMorgenzon, and Lars Maack from Bayten pouring their wines.

These are great opportunities to compare wines from different producers in this country that often flies under the radar and offers great values as a result, and to get invaluable insight from the people who make wine there.

Speaking of winemakers …. if, like me, you didn’t get to meet Randall Grahm of California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard when he was in town earlier this year, you’re in luck! He’s coming back to Orlando next week. He’ll be headlining a dinner at Swirlery on Wednesday, pairing his wines with five courses prepared by Orlando’s favorite chef-winemaker Jamie McFadden of Snowbirds Vintners and Cuisiniers Catering.

One more for the last minute category – tomorrow night, Vintage Vino in Kissimmee is holding a tasting it’s calling “Luxapalooza,” which is worth a mention for the clever naming alone. Napa wines from the Treasury collection are on the agenda, including bottles from BV, Sterling, and Etude.

Details for these and many more events are on the Events Page. Check it out and happy wine-ing, Orlando!

Celebrate Spring with Two Napa Winemakers and Seasonal Tastings

Spring has sprung in Central Florida (even if not officially), and next week offers several ways to celebrate with a sip or two.

First, there are two opportunities to taste wine with the people who make it.

On Tuesday, Christophe Paubert from Stags’ Leap Winery leads a tasting at The Wine Room on Park Ave. I had the opportunity to taste with Christophe at his winery last fall as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference and to hear about his non-interventionist winemaking philosophy.

Wednesday, Stonestreet winemaker Lisa Valtenbergs will host a tasting at Swirlery.

Tim’s in Lake Mary-Sanford is in a springtime mood next week, with a free tasting of wines for spring on Thursday and a Low Country Boil with wine pairings Saturday.

Check out the Events Page for all the details.

Cheers to this beautiful season!

A Traffic Jam of Wine Events

After a three-week holiday lull, Orlando’s wine scene will roar back to life in the coming days. There are more than a dozen high quality tastings, classes, and dinners to choose from in the coming week, including several that feature winemakers or winery owners.

Unfortunately, you can’t go to all or even most of these events. That’s because more than a third of them are happening at exactly the same time.

Now, I know nobody needs to go to a dozen wine events in one week, and I know some overlap is unavoidable, and I know the winemaker events have to capitalize on the headliners’ existing schedules. But I do sometimes wish for a bit more coordination.

Central Florida’s wine scene is vibrant and passionate, but we’re not New York or San Francisco. We count our quality wine establishments in tens, not hundreds. Many area wine enthusiasts are eager to support as many of those establishments as our calendars, wallets, and livers will allow. That’s tough to do when schedules collide as often as they do.

Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now and move on to what you really want to know about – the highlights of this crazy week!

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Where to Go in Sonoma: The Blockbusters

Note: The wineries in this post followed the common industry practice of waiving tasting fees for bloggers and other media. 

Is a trip to wine country on your list of resolutions for 2018? If so, Sonoma County should be on your agenda.

Sonoma is sometimes an afterthought – nothing more than a quick stopover between San Francisco and Napa. But this diverse county is a worthy wine destination unto itself, offering everything from stunning tasting rooms with breathtaking views to flip-flop-casual samplings in out-of-the-way vineyards. Most importantly, though, Sonoma offers plenty of good wine.

In this post, we’ll explore three blockbuster wineries that hosted me for tastings on a visit to Sonoma last fall. Next time, I’ll unveil a few of the region’s hidden gems.

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Talk of Terroir in California Wine Country

“I think people make too much fuss over winemakers,” said Christophe Paubert, standing in front of an elegant fireplace at Napa’s Stags’ Leap Winery on a recent fall evening.

Some might find his words counterintuitive, given his vocation. Paubert is Stags’ Leap’s winemaker.

He’s not the only one of his kind who advocated for minimalist techniques during a recent visit to Napa and Sonoma. It was a refreshing refrain in a region where heavy-handedness was once the name of the game.

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Finger Lakes Wine: Much More Than Riesling

Orlando has been buzzing about New York’s Finger Lakes wine country lately.

Central Florida Women for Winesense sent a hefty delegation there in July for the national organization’s “Grand Event”; fellow Central Florida blogger Melissa Radley-McConnell of Time to Unwine-d visited the area this summer too.

So when I ended up there last week, I felt a little late to the party. But it was definitely better late than never – especially since I was there during harvest!

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Sorting newly-harvested grapes at Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery

Whirlwind Tour

I had just one day to hit the highlights of this beautiful and prolific wine region, so I chose four wineries to visit: Dr. Konstantin Frank, Ravines, Hermann J. Wiemer, and Standing Stone.

My itinerary spanned two lakes, with stunning vistas and early fall colors around every turn, and a wide array of grape varietals and winemaking styles.

The Finger Lakes have won national and international acclaim for rieslings, and the varietal remains the regional specialty. But the area has diversified into many other varietals too; and while I’m a huge riesling fan – I even hosted a riesling tasting at my house recently – I was even more captivated by some of those other grapes.

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The People Behind the Wine, Plus a Celebration Wine Dinner

It’s always fun and educational to meet the “Man (or Woman) Behind the Curtain” of your favorite wine. You’ll have three opportunities to do so in Central Florida next week.

On Tuesday, Tim’s Wine Market in Windermere hosts Bruce Neyers, owner of Neyers Vineyards in Napa, for a free tasting of his wines. I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce and his wife Barbara a couple of years ago – I was charmed by both of them and by their wines.

If you perused the Events Page early and often enough, you might’ve snagged tickets to The Wine Room‘s sold-out Grgich Hills tasting on Thursday with winery manager (and founder Mike Grgich’s daughter) Violet Grgich.

Also on Thursday, you can visit with Orlando’s own chef-winemaker Jamie McFadden of Snowbirds Vintners Thursday when he hosts one of Swirlery Wine Bar’s Somm Sessions. Jamie is also the owner of Cuisiniers Catering and an all-around good guy. I wrote about his fun and juicy rosé earlier this summer.

One more thing – if you can’t make it to Norman’s 14th Anniversary on Saturday, there’s another anniversary dinner on the horizon. The Ravenous Pig turns 10 this year, and they’re celebrating next Sunday (Oct. 8) with a five-course dinner prepared by an all-star cast of area chefs, with wine pairings by Master Somm George Miliotes.

Take a look at the Events Page for details on these and many other Orlando-area wine events. (Pro Tip: Check back often, and look beyond the current week – many of these events sell out quickly.)

Happy sipping (and noshing), Orlando!

Orlando’s Quantum Leap Winery: Worth a new look

Weekends are when I usually tell you about the plethora of wine events in the coming week … but next week is looking a little slow, what with the holiday and all.

So what better time to discover a new favorite wine place?

If you haven’t checked out the Wine Venues Guide in awhile, you’ll notice a few new spots on the list, including a couple I hadn’t visited in several years, simply because they’d fallen out of my usual rotation.

One of those is Quantum Leap Winery in the Mills-50 district, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. On a recent visit, I found a friendly space and passionate people who are taking risks, breaking rules, and making some pretty cool wines.

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