Valencia Wine Company (VWC) hit its tenth year in business this year, and with it we’ve seen their location on Town Center as the continual bright light among other storefronts that have come and gone.
And while the changing landscape could have daunted any business owner, Guy Lelarge just keeps on going. His most recent addition, since his in-store remodel last year, was the addition of big, bright red umbrellas to welcome guest to stay awhile…longer.
I have many stories to tell of my early, middle and current years at VWC. Beginning with not knowing very much about wine and being thrilled that Guy was willing to include tutelage (I often refer to him as my Guru) with the price of whatever I was drinking. Later, he welcomed my “charity nights” where I worked like a dog for tips and he generously gave a nice percentage of the sales to my church. As of late, Guy is a frequent “contributor” in my YouTubes and continues, as always, to be my go-to-Guru.
So, in celebrating this remarkable anniversary, I asked Guru Guy those pesky questions you have always wanted to ask him…but were afraid to:
- Ten years ago, when you first opened, you told me that many people said, “You stole my idea”. Tell me, where did you get the idea to open the wine bar in SCV?
The day I opened people said it was such a great idea and wished they had it. The idea came about after 30 years in the corporate wine world. I had just moved from Las Vegas after setting up some of the largest resorts (Bellagio, The Venetian, Paris…) with wine programs. Helen and I discussed the idea for two months and all I kept thinking was… “I want a place to drink with my buddies, in Santa Clarita, and no one is doing it.”
When we started the buildout, we wondered if people would come… one day, as we were picking the granite on the floor, Helen and I, and a couple of friends were looking around. At that time, the walls were covered up but for a small 4 x 6 peephole in the glass. Our logo was pasted to the glass. As we were discussing the potential or not, someone came up to the glass. They could not see in, but we could see out and hear to some extent. That person stood in the small window, their eyes framed out, saying, “Open, Open, Open….” At that moment, Helen looked over at me: I think we’re gonna be okay,” she said, smiling, as we realized the impact our place could make.
- Over the years you’ve had some outstanding employees (one in fact became a commercial winemaker), a sommelier, your lovely daughter Alexa charms your guests and though people thought I worked there because I write about VWC so much, two nights of me! Tell me, how much Guru-Guy time do you devote to training staff about wine? (One of my pet peeves is going to a wine bar and the employee knows less than I do!)
When I see passion and the motivation to learn, characteristics I look for in my employees, I spend time and money to increase their wine knowledge and interests. I make it a priority to take them under my wing to teach them about wine and encourage them to attend classes. My clients tell me that I’ve spoiled them as well, as clients also gain more sophisticated and educated palates at Valencia Wine Company.
- How do you decide which wines to feature? Is it based on what your clientele usually purchases or do you also try new wines to educate our palates and expand our knowledge?
It’s a combination of things: I look for unique wines – not mainstream brands – that clients may have never have discovered on their own. The exciting challenge for me is increasing my clients’ knowledge of wine, which heightens their overall experience.
- Please tell us a story involving your favorite customer.
Ah, so many favorites…one night a couple called me over to their table. They wanted to share a remarkable experience. They had met at Valencia Wine Co. exactly one year ago, to the minute. And today the man had presented the woman with an engagement ring! Well, I congratulated them, of course, but then I thought I wanted to do more…so I sent them over a bottle of Champagne to toast their very special times at the wine bar.
(My note: I had asked people on Facebook if they had any stories to tell and this one, shocking both Guy’s wife Helen, Guy and me, came from my little sister: “I met my husband there. I was going out with some girlfriends and said he could meet me there and if we didn’t hit it off I’d hook him up with one of my friends!”)
- And how about a story about the worst experience you had with a customer?!?!?!?!?
Oh, let’s see, what to say without getting into trouble! I know: One busy Saturday night our power went out. Candles were given out to customers…and not one wanted to leave! We couldn’t use our register to print out any bills. We wrote out what we could on scraps of paper and told people not to worry, it was all going to be on the honor system, and they could return the next day to settle up! That may have been a tough one for me as a business owner, but they sure had fun!
- What’s next on the VWC horizon?
So much to say! We have a new menu coming very soon that will include fondue, country night, salsa night, sake martinis, jazz Sunday, our annual holiday tasting, maybe a wine dinner with Larsens…stay tuned!
- How’s your wine club doing? I know you were the first to have an International Wine Club on Amazon but locals can get in on that one, and/or the one you offer in the shop, right?
Valencia Wine Company is growing by leaps and bounds through our local and internet-based wine clubs. Both offer versatility for wine lovers all over the country. We get new members from our promotions all of the time. We provide all of the information, reviews and winemaker notes so that our wine club is also educational. And members never receive the same bottle twice!
- What is the most expensive wine you ever sold?
Well before I opened Valencia Wine Company I sold a case of Chateau Petrus, at $4600 a bottle, to a movie star…who shall remain nameless!
- If I guess how many corks are in that big wine glass what do I get? How many times have you emptied that?
We don’t do the contest anymore but in the early days at the wine bar, Nick Morello (former manager now a winemaker) surprised me by counting the number of corks in the glass – 1200! And I surprised him by asking, “Was that my last week’s consumption?”
- Helen LaPrairie, your lovely and talented wife, is a big draw at VWC with her Helen Wheels Band as are the other local talented bands that play at the bar on weekends. Thinking out of the box you even had a magician recently. Anything else hidden up your wine-sleeve?
For your entertainment we are presently working on creating a weeknight event – with all of our most talented artists to jam with clients! But, no matter what changes we have in store we are still the place that for ten years have been where friends met friends, where new friendships began, where the first bands came out to rock, where new wines were first stocked; first dates and last dates, everyone’s fate- something always new and old began or began again here at the VWC on Town Center Drive.
Okay, back to Eve here. I thought I knew everything about Valencia Wine Company but this article proved me wrong. I plan on furthering my knowledge, cutting the power and having fondue with my own Mr. Right very soon at the VWC. Join me?
All weekend long plan to join Valencia Wine Co. as they ring in their 10-Year Anniversary from September 21 through September 23:
“Where it all began…Join us for an evening of great live music, amazing wines, party til you drop! Helen Wheels Band Rocks Friday night, Hollywood Hillbillies do their Country on Saturday night and Jazz on Sunday! Twenty percent off all take home bottles from Friday through Saturday!