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Valencia Wine Co. toasts six years in Town Center

Spook-tacular Halloween party tonight

Posted: October 31, 2008 1:15 p.m.
Updated: January 1, 2009 5:00 a.m.
 
The growing wine-bar scene in Santa Clarita goes back to September 2002, when longtime wine retailer and expert Guy (pronounced "gee" with a hard G) LeLarge opened Valencia Wine Co., the Santa Clarita Valley's first wine bar.

The thriving contemporary wine bar and retail shop on Town Center Drive in Valencia has attracted a growing clientele in its first six years, providing a selection of more than 900 different top-drawer wines, elegant decor, excellent customer service, live music on weekend nights, a large outdoor patio, and a comfortable atmosphere devoid of wine snobbery.

"We celebrated our sixth anniversary last month, and we're going to be here for many, many years," said LeLarge, who's been in the wine business more than 35 years, and a 14-year SCV resident. "The wine bar and shop are doing very well."

LeLarge credits Valencia Wine Co.'s success to its selection, service and emphasis on education, which he believes has helped raise the bar among local wine-drinkers.

"People tell us every day that we've benefited them so much in terms of education and their wine knowledge," LeLarge said. "We have people who walked in here six years ago asking, ‘Do you have any white Zinfandel?' We told them we didn't have any, and instead recommended something else. Now, we've got them drinking big cabernets. They've become more sophisticated."

With new wines and lines reaching the market all the time, education is non-stop at LeLarge's establishment. The bar hosts a variety of wine-tasting classes each month, including blind-tasting and wine-tasting basics.

"These really are tasting events where you share information and learn how to appreciate a good wine, and people really enjoy them," LeLarge said.

Valencia Wine Co.'s program hosts several wine-maker dinners throughout the year at Tournament Players Club Valencia, pairing fine wines and food, and the year-end holiday season is especially festive.

"Our huge annual Halloween party is tonight," LeLarge said. "Everyone comes in costume, we have live music, and I give large bottles away as prizes. The first prize will probably be a magnum of fine Cabernet, and the last-prize winner usually gets a bottle of Luna or white Zinfandel. Our party has been a Halloween tradition since we opened. There's no entry fee, no admisison fee. You come in, drink wine, listen to music, and you party. That's what it's all about."

LeLarge also throws an annual holiday tasting and dinner, also at TPC, slated this year for Saturday, Nov. 15, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

"We take over TPC, indoors and outdoors," LeLarge said. "I hand-pick my top suppliers to come and pour wine for me, so there will be 150-200 wines to taste from all over the world. And the winery owners or winemakers are there to answer everyone's questions, so it's highly informative. We'll have plenty of great appetizers and food all afternoon, too, plus live music."

Last year's holiday tasting attracted 250 celebrants, LeLarge said. "I won't do more than that. I keep it intimate, comfortable, high-end. From all the comments I've gotten through the years, it's by far the highest-quality wine tasting in this valley, and only $70 per person. It's a really nice event."

LeLarge has expanded the bar over the years, and it now seats around 45 people. "We have a selection of 20 to 25 wines by the glass that can change every couple of weeks," he said. "We always offer a couple of wine flights, red and white, and have a really nice selection of appetizers, like a chocolate plate to pair with a nice glass of red wine. Our cheese plate is unbelievable."

Visitors may pick out a bottle of wine from the floor-to-ceiling racks on the retail side and take it to the bar to enjoy, with no corkage fee, or to the patio, which LeLarge has also built out to accomomdate about 25 additional customers. Retail prices range from $10-$15 to $3,000-$4,000 per bottle.

If you favor a brew instead of wine, LeLarge carries a limited selection of imported beers and microbrews. "But we're much more into the wine business than beer," LeLarge said.

The store's wine club now counts about 300 members, "We serve very eclectic, boutique-y wines, so I don't want 3,000 members," LeLarge said. "I couldn't offer the quality I'm offering now."

After six years in the SCV, LeLarge and Valencia Wine Co. have become part of the community, involved in supporting local arts. He's one of the founders and co-chairs of the TPC/West Ranch art and wine gala, a five-course dinner and tasting affair on Sept. 20 that raised more than $81,000 for CalArts, LeLarge said.

"We're involved in a lot of things," he added. "It just doesn't stop. You just don't open your doors and hope people are going to come to you. You have to go get them with some interesting, creative events. That's why we're still doing well."

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