Meet my friend Helen Johannesen, one of the smartest and hardest working woman in LA. In addition to being a partner in the newly-opened Jon and Vinny’s, the Director of Operations and Beverage Manager for Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec and Petit Trois, she has just launched her namesake wine shop Helen’s Wine Delivery. Tucked away in the back of Jon and Vinny’s (my new favorite spot for breakfast meetings and pizza date nights), Helen’s is a little jewel box of a shop. Beautiful bottles of wine are displayed like art and Helen is happy to tell you everything you might need to know about each bottle. Helen has taught me so much about food and wine over the years and I’m excited that her well-crafted vision is now available for public consumption. And did I mention she delivers? Read on for all the dets.
HBT: When did you first become interested in wine?
HJ: I worked at a restaurant called L’Etoile in Madison, WI while finishing college and the cellar there was heavily curated by Thierry Thiesse. I thought the concept of wine maker as farmer and the introduction to the idea of terroir were fascinating. When I moved to Los Angeles I worked at Craft, which exposed me to a vast array of wines not only regionally but also lots of older wines. Each producer tells a story with their vines and choices in production.
HBT: Do you have a favorite region?
HJ: If I had to choose I would say Burgundy. But recently the hill of Breze in Saumur has really struck a chord.
HBT: How does Helen’s stand out from other wine shops in LA?
HJ: Every wine shop is, or should be, a subjective experience and curation of that buyer’s palate. So essentially what makes my store different is that it is inherently me. It is wines that I have tasted, that I believe in and that all have balance and quality. It is also a very tight curation so instead of flooding the consumer with an excess of choice or trying to cram in every label possible to make me look cool or flushed out, I practice a less is more approach that I think people are really enjoying.
HBT: I love the intimate vibe in Helen’s. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting, please describe the atmosphere.
HJ: Its a gem box. Its a beautifully designed room that is warm with white oak, cozy with rugs and surrounds visitors with bottles of hand selected wine.
HBT: How does Helen’s interact with Jon and Vinny’s?
HJ: The two are intrinsically connected and yet in some ways separate. Helen’s is a business within Jon & Vinny’s but it is also a part of the restaurant. The retail store acts as a cellar for the restaurant, so essentially there are two prices for every bottle. The wine list that diners peruse has everything on it that’s in the physical store. And everything in the store is also priced retail. Guests can order bottles off the list and if they like it they can take a bottle home at retail cost. The other night a guy bought a whole case of the Toscana rosso we were pouring by the glass because he liked it so much. We also have lots of people who cruise by and park in the back and just shop retail.
HBT: Every single wine you have ever served me has been delicious. How do you pick your wines?
HJ: I choose from a catalog of wine and producers that I have tasted, followed, read about and loved. Helen’s is a celebration of these old favorites and new producers that I find exciting. I do a lot of reading, researching and meeting with different importers who carry producers that I am into. The process is also thinking about making sure the selection is well rounded and balanced.
HBT: Rumor has it that you deliver wine all around LA. What! Tell me this is true!
HJ: The wine delivery component is incredibly exciting. We will feature different bottles of wine on the website that will change monthly and be curated based on a theme. You can go online, shop and add to your cart and we can deliver it to your door! People can also peruse the entire store’s selections upon request or work on-on-one with me to get something specific and we will delivery that as well.
HBT: What can one expect when they join Helen’s Wine Club?
HJ: I am still hammering out the name of this club but the program is launching soon. You can sign up for $88 per month and I will send you three bottles per month that are exciting and allocated. Its a cool way to try new things and also get something exclusive.
HBT: Show me three awesome wines under twenty-five bucks.
HJ: 1. 2014 Corbieres, Gris de Gris, Domaine Fonsainte, 2. 2013 Muscadet, Clos des Alees, Luneau Papin
3. NV Crémant de Loire Rose, Chateau de Brézé
HBT: What’s your favorite thing to drink after a long day of work?
HJ: I drink a lot of Gerolsteiner!! It’s sparkling mineral water…I know, LAME! I like to drink wine with friends and with dinner but probably if I was unwinding after a long day with my girls I would opt for some gorgeous rose, like the Sancerre Rose from Francois Crochet or a buoyant and soft Gamay like my absolutely favorite Morgan from Foillard in the Cotes du Py.
HBT: Who are your mentors?
HJ: I wish I had more mentors! I have to acknowledge my partners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo for always encouraging me to be true to myself and we have always followed our own path. It’s something that is so important not only in business but in life. I really admire Caroline Styne and everything that she has accomplished in this city, it is truly inspiring. Jay Z has always been my mentor since day one. And Diane Keaton but neither of them are in this field but they both love wine.
HBT: How does LA inspire you business and your vision?
HJ: I have met some of the most interesting and inspiring people since moving to Los Angeles. People who have helped me believe in myself and follow my dreams. I think that Los Angeles fosters the promise of creativity and a certain level of freedom that I never felt growing up in New York. It has definitely allowed me the confidence to do things a little bit differently and break from convention.