Although the wine industry continues to be male-dominated, Central Florida is proud to have a vibrant community of female sommeliers. Below, we share the stories of two local women in wine: Melissa McAvoy, co-owner of Swirlery Wine Bar, and Yellymary “Mary” Montalvo, co-owner of (now closed) Luisa’s Cellar.
Women in Wine: Melissa McAvoy
Melissa opened Swirlery Wine Bar in 2015 with business partner Damian Roman. The bar, located in Orlando’s SoDo District, was the combination of her long-time work in the hospitality industry and a whirlwind romance with wine.
She began working at the age of 14, when she was a busser at a French restaurant in Port St. Lucie. After four years, she became a server and started learning about wine and how to sell it. She soon counted white Burgundy as a favorite wine — not because she loved to drink it but because customers loved to buy it.
Melissa moved to Orlando in her 20s and continued working in restaurants. She landed a position at Citricos, a fine dining spot at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. Despite her success, she wanted a change. “I was always running away from the hospitality industry,” she says, “thinking, ‘How am I going to get out of it and do something else?’”
In 2013, she began carving a new path: She started studying wine through the Court of Master Sommeliers. The more she learned, the more she felt called to open a wine bar. And two years later, she did just that. Swirlery quickly became a hub for the area’s growing wine community — and beyond. Winemakers from all over the world began seeking out the unassuming storefront on Michigan Avenue.
To adjust to life during a pandemic, Melissa teamed up with another local sommelier and held virtual blind tastings. The weekly Zoom session allowed locals to sip wine alongside top somms from across the country.
Her next step will be taking the first part of the tough exam to become a Master Sommelier. Plus, her sights are set on a second location near the coast in Volusia County. In the meantime, she continues to create a safe place for the wine community to gather and learn from one another.
Women in Wine: Yellymary “Mary” Montalvo
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Mary didn’t often drink wine, as beer and rum were the beverages of choice. Her first exposure to wine came in 2003 during a move to Germany with her husband Sascha Weyer. Her father-in-law often took her wine-tasting, and she soon became a passionate consumer.
The couple moved to Central Florida in 2009 (after a stop in Puerto Rico and a journey through law school). Walking through downtown Clermont, she spotted an empty building that she thought would make a cute wine bar. In late 2012, she and Sascha opened Vineyards of the World.
Just a year later, Mary stepped away from the legal world to focus fully on the wine industry. She earned numerous wine qualifications and built a solid reputation for the wine bar. After five years, the building was sold, and the new owners gave the couple only 30 days to vacate. As they searched for a new location, they set their sights on Sanford, where they often enjoyed the German cuisine at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe.
In June 2017, they opened Luisa’s Cellar, named after Mary’s grandmother. As she continues to stake out a space for herself in an industry dominated by white men, she focuses her efforts on mentoring others, specifically young Latinas. “My passion is teaching wine; it’s telling people about wine,” she says. “I think that is the call.”
Although Luisa’s Cellar closed its door at the end of July, Mary’s dream is coming to fruition: She and Sascha plan to start a wine academy in Asheville, North Carolina. All the while, she hopes to remain active in the Central Florida wine scene.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Edible Orlando.