(Crystal Cameron-Schaad enjoys sharing an education in wine culture with patrons.)  

By Jeff Maisey

For the more sophisticated traveler, experiencing a destination through its culinary and winemaking culture is an essential ingredient in understanding the uniqueness of its people and land. 

Travel for those seeking a refined adventure beyond beaching oneself at an all-inclusive Caribbean resort or Disney World is vastly different than a vacation; it’s a continuing education.

That quest for enhanced learning is reflected in Crystal Cameron-Schaad’s approach to owning and operating Crystal Palate Wine & Gourmet in Norfolk’s East Beach neighborhood. 

When patrons walk through the 4500 Pretty Lake Avenue entrance, the first observation to be made is how the displays of wine bottles are arranged: By country and region. Most are European and sourced from Croatia, France, Italy, Greece, Germany, and Austria. Also making the selective wine list is Chatham Vineyard’s Church Creek (Virginia) labeled Steel Chardonnay, a variety celebratory sparking/Champagnes, and a special display of California-based Abiouness’ Ten Rows series, a favorite amongst East Beachers as the winemaker, Nicole, is the daughter of resident Kay Abiouness and her late husband, Al.   

Following a career as a television newscaster and then press secretary for former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and US House Representative Scott Rigell, Crystal Cameron-Schaad, whose husband is WAVY-10’s Tom Schaad, transitioned her career in a completely different direction, though one she long held a passion for — wine and a deeper understanding of it. 

Crystal’s first interest came when she worked in a wine bar in Orlando, Florida when she was attending college. 

“I had the opportunity to taste so many wines from around the world,” she explained. “I was studying for media and journalism at the time and I had one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments. I was intrigued by the stories behind all the wine (bottle) labels.”

Cameron-Schaad realized she had an extraordinary palate early on, noting a great appreciation for the sensory details, especially high quality wines.

“I could taste something and remember every single thing I was tasting. It evokes so much emotion and memory.” 

One such memory was sharing a college graduation dinner with her dad and having an impressive bottle of wine to pair it with.

“We had a Brunello di Montacino,” she said, “and I can tell you everything about that dinner and everything about that bottle, from the spices, that tart cherry note, and everything that was paired with it. It’s part of the memory of that evening. 

“I think that’s what wine does,” she continued. “As we’ve grown into a business, that’s what we try to do for our clients — to equip them and educate them so they can create amazing experiences at home.” 

Beyond the retail gourmet wine and cheese side of the business, Crystal Cameron-Schaad, along with certified sommelier and special events coordinator Tina Morey, specialize in wine education classes. Initially, Crystal hoped to operate a wine school, but has since emerged with the brilliant blend of education and retail. 

Crystal Palate offers Wine Wednesday EDUtasting experience by appointment at 5 and 6 PM. Social Saturday Tastings featuring a quartet of vinos is at 4 PM with reservations required. 

On October 28, Cameron-Schaad will teach a 1-day WSET Level 1 class from 9 AM to 3:45 PM. There’s a test at the end of the session covering knowledge of grape varieties, food and wine pairings, tasting techniques, and wine service. Become a well-informed wine drinker. 

In addition to tastings and classes, Cameron-Schaad hosts a series of visiting winemaker and master sommelier experiences where patrons and Crystal Palate Club Members have a fun opportunity to meet some of the folks in the winemaking industry. 

Also offered are blind tasting sessions of specific varietals. Upcoming tastings in this program ($40/person) included Gamay (Nov. 1 & 11), Beaujolais (Nov. 4), and Sangiovese (Dec. 2 & 6). 

Learn how to pair cheeses and wine for the holiday season ahead on November 16 ($75/ticket). And as a pre-New Year’s Eve education, there’s a Champagne Social on December 14 ($75/ticket) that will aid your party planning. 

“We’re absolutely passionate about education and helping people find the perfect bottle of wine for every opportunity,” said Crystal.