Winesplaining With Coly Den Haan
Welp. There’s no way around it. It’s election week here in the US. We’re voting on the big one, but also on major House and Senate races, and many, many important races down-ballot. We’re feeling all the things. No small amounts of stress or fear from our respective locations, but our votes have been cast in CA, UT and from Amsterdam (!!), we’ve fundraised, donated and called and written to voters all over the country. Now we … wait.
In lieu of dropping more anxiety in your inbox today, we decided to share an interview about something we love, something that despite being a thing that shouldn’t be leaned on excessively for coping with stress can definitely help, something that comes from the earth and conjures images of joyful gatherings and good conversations. We’re talking about wine. More specifically, we’re talking about wine made, distributed and sold by women. Women who have decided to take on predominant wine culture in a myriad of ways and have been inspiring and ingenious during the lockdown.
We don’t need to say much more, rather just introduce you to Coly Den Haan, proprietor of Vinovore, a wine shop in Los Angeles devoted to women winemakers. Coly walks us through her journey to changing the way we see wine, and why it matters who makes and curates it.
From all of us at Honeybee on a very unsettling Monday in November 2020, cheers and love to all of you. And if you haven’t already… VOTE.
HOW IT STARTED
I kind of fell into it; the manager at the restaurant I was working at offered to sponsor me to take a Sommelier course. I had enjoyed wine from time to time but overall I thought the wine vibe was too stuffy for me, but I had nothing to lose. Almost immediately during that first class, my preconceived notions of wine being too pretentious went out the window and I was hooked!
ONCE IN HOSPITALITY, ALWAYS IN HOSPITALITY ...
I waited tables and bartended for many years. Back in around 2006 I was all about the cocktail revolution that was just hitting LA from NYC. I was working on opening my own cocktail bar. This is when I was offered to take the Somm course and then I knew I had to open a wine bar instead and spread the word about how cool and passion-based wine is! Then for the next ten years I opened and operated several wine bars and restaurants. I finally got burnt out on the food and bar side of things. I still had a burning love for the wine business though, so retail seemed like a perfect new endeavor for me.
I wanted to open something that felt personal to my experiences and my mission to make wine approachable. I tried to use the design aesthetic I picked up over the years in restaurants and apply it to the shop, making it feel less sterile than other shops I’d seen. I tried to make Vinovore more cozy and appealing, a place you would want to hang out like a bar. I also came up with the Vinovore tasting chart. This was a way for the customer to navigate the more unusual wines without feeling intimidated or that they may be up-sold by a pushy salesperson.
“Natural wine is for everyone, that’s the point. It’s a humble process and life, making wine this way with the philosophy to do right by our bodies and the earth.”
MAKING SPACE FOR WOMEN WINEMAKERS IN A MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY (LOOKING AT YOU, TOO, NATTY WINE PEEPS)
When I came up with the idea to only carry female winemakers/owners, it was around the last presidential election when we all thought we were going to have our first female president. I did some research on whether the concept already existed and as far as I could find it didn’t. This was depressing but also in a way exciting to be able to do something first. I had always highlighted women on my wines lists in the past so this felt like a natural progression and reflection of me. When we didn't get our female president and then that was followed by the #metoo movement, my choice became even more timely. I think people needed some big shakes to wake up and talk and do something about the injustices we all know about and have just simply lived with. Vinovore isn’t saving lives or anything monumental but that one choice to focus on women in a male dominated business is a small ripple, contributing to the bigger wave that keeps rising. My time in the hospitality business has been male dominated on nearly every level and position from busboy to investor. I do feel that here in Los Angeles there are a lot of women doing amazing things in this industry, more so than other cities, so that’s cool. One thing that was very important to me was that by raising up women I did not want to alienate men. Men supporting women is equally as important as women supporting women. I feel like Vinovore has succeeded in this. We have an amazing community of all types, male, female, queer, even conservative that support us and it’s been so beautiful to see. So, yeah I absolutely have hope, let’s just all get out and vote to be sure!!! I'm a huge champion for natural wine and I love that it's having a moment. I just hope that it doesn't become exclusive and pretentious like I felt the wine world was when I first started. Unfortunately, these days natural wine can feel like a whole new kind of boys club, “natty boys,” as they’ve been dubbed. It makes me so angry; natural wine is for everyone, that’s the point. It’s a humble process and life, making wine this way with the philosophy to do right by our bodies and the earth. Perhaps we should hope to see more female winemakers and industry professionals or dudes not trying to make it just their thing. When we make wine more inclusive we can enjoy ourselves and others. Wine is and has always been meant to be enjoyed with food and friends, not to collect points in magazines and dust in cellars!
THIS WINE IS ALWAYS ABOUT MORE THAN JUST WINE
With wine trends these days I feel like the old ways are bleeding into the new ways of winemaking, which is to say less modern tricks and chemicals and more labor intensive methods that are better for the environment. Everyone is super into orange wines right now, which they should be. They’re awesome but leaving white grapes on the skins is also a natural preservative and stabilizer, allowing the winemakers to use less Sulphur and additives. Climate change is a real thing affecting the wine world so I hope to see wine trends to bend with that in mind. I’m a strong believer in freedom of speech, of course. I know as a business owner it’s a general rule of thumb to keep your personal politics to yourself so as to not alienate any customer base. We’ve been called the “feminist” wine shop many times. I don’t mind it but it isn’t the stand we are taking. That being said, in a country so divided right now, it’s hard not to see the clear sides people stand on. It’s in our lives and shops.
FLIPPING A BUSINESS MODEL OVERNIGHT
The transition when the quarantine first went into effect was very stressful. I felt like I opened a whole new business in the span of a few days. As things started to settle into a "new normal," so to speak, a few months in I noticed more people started asking to come inside the shop. My staff nor myself felt comfortable for many reasons but especially since the shop is so small inside. I could tell my customers were craving that browsing and one on one shopping experience though, so I thought why don't I bring the wine and staff to them? That’s when the Wine Window was born. It took a lot of logistics but I'm so happy we made it happen. I also had the idea to do a Vinovan for a few years, however it didn't come together until now. However, during these times it made total sense. We didn't do our own delivery pre-COVID but implemented it almost right away when the lockdown hit. So, over the months delivery grew and it seemed we could afford to have a dedicated driver and system. Delivery is just a part of what VANessa will be up to though! Before COVID we were in the process of signing two new leases on other spaces that were going to be more wine bar/tasting focused with a retail element. Now, I would love more wine windows on corners everywhere and lots of Vinovans!
BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER
One observation I have had is that we are doing a lot of gifting. No one can really have in person gatherings for whatever life event they may be celebrating, so people are sending nice things to loved ones instead. We have also helped put on several zoom wine parties for businesses, families, or friend groups.
Like a lot of people, my partner and I have taken on more home improvement projects. It’s been great making our space more entertaining for ourselves like an outdoor projector for movie nights and so on. At this point I’ve yet to go out to eat or visit anywhere, so it’s all about the home base, well, and the shop!
AND TO LEARN MORE ABOUT WOMEN WINEMAKERS
Books are a great way to start learning!
Tasting and really paying attention to what you’re drinking is great.
I always tell people to take a beat with their glass and try to pick up any aromas or flavor profiles. It’s a way to start training your brain and olfactory system. We will probably fire up our Winesplaining classes again soon, now via Zoom.
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