EXCLUSIVE — George Miliotes, the general manager who, along with chef Clifford Pleau, turned California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort into a destination restaurant for tourists and locals before both were hired away to help create Seasons 52, plans to leave Darden Restaurants to open a wine bar at Disney Springs.
The new place, tentatively called Wine Bar George, will be in a space behind Raglan Road and across from the just-opened Hangar Bar. Miliotes stressed that the lease has not yet been signed and he has not secured all of the necessary financing for the buildout.
Miliotes is one of three master sommeliers in Central Florida who have been certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers. There are currently only 230 master somms worldwide. (John Blazon and Brian Koziol are the other two locals with the m.s. certificate.) Miliotes is largely self taught and started his wine education well before he reached legal drinking age. Working at his father’s restaurants, including Chris’ House of Beef, which was a local mainstay on John Young Parkway just north of Colonial Drive, Miliotes began studying labels and, perhaps, sniffing and having a sip of the wines left over from patron’s bottles. “I could tell you everything that was on a German wine label by the time I was 15,” said Miliotes, 53.
He continued his oenophilic education and passed the rigorous test in San Francisco “about 10 years ago.” He and the other local masters continue to hold classes for others who want to learn about wine and become certified. (There are two levels of certification before the masters.)
Miliotes said that wine education, for those who want it, will also be a part of his wine bar concept. For example, instead of meeting with wine representatives in an office to sample new vintages, as he does now as the director of beverage and hospitality for the Capital Grille and Seasons 52, he’ll entertain the representatives in the middle of the bar and allow guests who are interested to taste samples, too.
Miliotes said that he was approached by Disney representatives about the project and is quick to point out that he is not leaving Darden with any rancor. He is pleased with his employment there and satisfied with the wine program he helped put in place.
Pleau and Miliotes were hired by Darden as a team in 2002 to essentially recreate their roles at California Grill. The two had opened the restaurant in 1995 under a then-new corporate climate that allowed the chefs and managers at the top tier restaurants to treat them as their own. The two opened the prototype Seasons 52 on Restaurant Row in 2003 and saw their jobs expand as Darden began to open other locations around the country. The Orlando based Darden also purchased the Capital Grille, a high-end steakhouse chain, which was ripe for Miliotes’s expertise in crafting fine wine lists. (Pleau left Darden in 2014 and is the vice president of research and development at Bloomin’ Brands’ Bonefish Grill.)
Because he has not obtained full financing for the construction, which is estimated to cost between $4-$6 million, Miliotes could not estimate when the wine bar will be open. But even though he will be participating at Disney Springs as an independent vendor, as a former cast member he knows that the businesses there all have a backstory that explains how they came into being. Miliotes didn’t want to leave that to others.
“I came in with my own story,” he said with a smile.