Wine: Fun is the Point

By Lisa Elbert


Lisa Elbert
Sommelier Helen Johannesen
Sommelier Helen Johannesen

Helen Johannesen is building a neon pink, California cool brand, along with her dream career. She joined Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo when they were getting Animal off the ground. “They’ve let me do whatever I want, whenever I want since day one,” says Johannesen.  In 2015, she became a partner in Shook and Dotolo’s casual pizza and pasta joint Jon & Vinny’s, and she opened a wine shop in the back of the restaurant, taking advantage of a grandfathered-in retail liquor license. Johannesen also is reaching consumers through her monthly wine club, regular classes at the restaurant, and gift packages (one of which includes a Fujimax camera). “Wine is so great and so chill, it’s such a social thing. It’s definitely not easy, but it should be fun. If it’s not fun, what’s the point?”

The Shop
Helen’s Wine Shop proffers an ever-changing, curated selection of wines. Since Jon & Vinny’s has the Italian side of her inventory covered, the wine shop includes a broader scope—in price and AOC. She rolls Old World and New, focusing on sustainably vinted wines that are, above all else, #dope. The shop was built to feel like a cellar—it’s intimate and temperature controlled, with 200 to 250 labels. Dine-in guests are encouraged to visit the shop, but may only order from the list during their meal. “We encourage people to have a glass of wine in the shop if their table isn’t ready,” says Johannesen. “There’s a lot to look at back there. People love it.”

How It’s Done
The shop is open from
8 am to 11 pm every day. So, when the restaurant isn’t open, you can still hit up Helen and #buyshitbecauseitsdope. About 90 percent of the labels are also on the list, so every bottle has two prices: one for retail and one for dine-in (markups vary, but are typical for retail and restaurants). Reds ordered on the floor are pulled from the shop, while certain bottles—highly allocated wines, bottles that aren’t quite ready to drink, and other collectibles—are available only in the shop.

Da Club
Helen’s wine club began with just a few members from a women-only wine
class, and has grown to 150 members in various states. “I recently found out I can ship wines to 46 states,” says Johannessen. “You really have to have a lot of patience to build a strong foundation and intact business. Initially, I was doing all of the deliveries. You have to figure it out before you can pass it on.” For Johannessen, patience paid off. “Making people comfortable when I’m helping them pick out a wine in the shop or through the club is really rewarding.” The club is subscription based and flexible; bottle quantities and delivery frequency vary, and there are four levels to choose from:

Level 1: Step Into The Realm | 2 small-production, delicious, easy-to-drink, low-stakes, high-reward wines | $45
Level 2: 2 Dope Wines | Labels of the moment, exceptional producers, rare finds, dreamy, made with integrity | $65
Level 3: S&P Club | 2 rare, high-end gems from renowned producers and elevated terroirs. MAD SERIOUS. For the discerning connoisseur who wants to impress and continue their education. | $120
Level 4: Tailor Made | 2 killer wines, based on subscriber tastes | $80
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