In the early 1990s, George Miliotes helped put Disney’s California Grill on the map as a serious culinary destination. After a time away creating the critically-acclaimed wine program at Darden’s Seasons 52, he was the perfect person to open a wine bar at the newly launched Disney Springs in Walt Disney World.
Wine Bar George, an exciting new concept for vino lovers, is now open at Disney Springs. Offering small plates, family-style entrees and plenty of wine by the ounce, glass or bottle, it promises to be a hotspot for casual meetups, full dinners and everything in between. Recently, we sat down with the creator, master sommelier George Miliotes, to learn more about his vision, and what drives him to share his love of wine with others.
On His Background
I’m not the five year planner, so a little bit of the wine thing was pieces falling into place. I mean, I didn’t know when I was 13, and my dad took me into the wine room for my first job — cleaning the racks, making sure the bottles had prices on them — that was helping my growth in the wine industry, but by the time I was 16, I could explain a German wine label to anyone.
When you’re a kid, you just take it all in. And the interest in wine just fostered itself over time. I went to college and got an economics degree, but I had more fun being a social director than going to class. So I went back to work for my dad, running restaurants.
On Becoming a Master Sommelier
While running the California Grill, a Court of Grand Masters Sommelier came to one of our staff classes that we held regularly. I had been trying to determine what I wanted to do next professionally. I decided to take the exam. I took the intro course and did fairly well, and decided, Hey, I’m going to make a run at this. But none of this was planned. I didn’t even know the Court existed until they came for my meeting. I was happy running my restaurant.
On Teaching and Learning About Wine
Everyone asks me, what’s the secret to learning? And I say, there’s no secret; everyday, we tasted wine and we talked about it. Every single day, at 4:30. Three minutes about food, three minutes about wine, and we were done. We’d be out of there in 10 minutes. Short and sweet.
On Wine Bar George
I’ve been asked hundreds of times, “When are you going to open up your own place?” And nothing really clicked on that front for me. I had a great time at Darden and I loved the company. But in all things, there are cycles, and it was time for me to move on.
I had done work that I am very proud of there. So I wasn’t really looking for an opportunity, but when Disney reached out to me, I looked into my heart. And I wanted to work with a team. I don’t want to sit in an office. I want to be in there.
On the Wine
We cover the whole world. We are opening with a range of varietals and price points. It’s hard to cover the current wine world [with 100 bottles.] There’s been a great explosion of Eastern European wines. So I see some growth over the first year of the program, seeing what sells, and what doesn’t, and seeing what people are interested in.
Currently, We have over 130 wines, all available in pieces and parts. So if you want to buy two ounces of 20 different wines, you can. And classics are important. But are also doing plenty of new school fun stuff that’s kind of kooky and crazy. But there’s room for everybody on my list. You’ve gotta be good, though.
On the Food
We have a cheese board, a charcuterie board, and a larger cheese and charcuterie board. We also have about 10 small plates that run the range of cuisines, and three family-style entrees. The variety gives guests flexibility, whether you’re interested in just cheese and wine, just small plates, or a full meal.
It allows for three or four different angles for people to enjoy the restaurant. There are also desserts and grab and go. The eight wines on tap, plus the cheese and charcuterie board, are available in grab and go, too.
On Other Offerings
I also have eight bottled beers that the chef loves and handpicked himself because he loves beer. I’m not doing any beers on tap right now because I have an Irish pub literally attached to me [Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant]. What am I going to compete with them? (laughs)
And then we are doing cocktails. I have an up-and-coming mixologist who is working on some very fun and cool things. We’re exploring wine-based cocktails.
On Wine Dinners
Eventually, I’ll do wine dinners. But I want them to be special, and for a reason. Overall, I think wine dinners have become a little bit like superhero movies; they’re all exactly the same. We won’t be doing them once a month, however. We’ll do them when there’s a reason to do them.
On What to Drink This Summer
Vinho verde [a Portuguese white wine] is inexpensive and everyone likes it. People come over for the summer, and you want to have a bottle of wine, vinho verde is ten dollars a bottle, and everybody loves it! When you have 20 people over, this one won’t like Chardonnay and that one won’t like Sauvignon Blanc. Crack open a vinho verde; it’s drinkable and everyone’s happy. And it’s nine percent alcohol, so nobody falls in the pool.