Vinovore’s Coly Den Haan talks women-made wines and what you should be drinking
Coly Den Haan is Vinovore’s self-described HBIC (“Head Beast in Charge”), a decade-long sommelier, the Silver Lake wine shop’s founder and co-owner, and a woman devoted to sharing the good word—and sips—of other women. At her new bottle shop and tasting room, she sells only wines made by female vintners. Here’s why wine’s future may just be female.
Let’s start with some recommendations: What are some great wintry wines we should be drinking right now?
We’re lucky to be in sunny California so whites and rosés still apply, but when it’s colder out, heartier reds. There are a couple rosés I’ve classified as “winter rosés,” so they have more skin contact, they’re darker, a little richer, a little drier, a little less light and refreshing, a little heavier; those are great for pairing with food, especially if you’re looking at stews and chilis and bigger comfort food. There’s a [Poderi] Sanguineto from Tuscany, made by two women who are partners—as of right now, I could drink that summer, spring, fall and winter but it definitely has less fruit. Going into spring and summer you want those fruity lighter wines, where this one’s very dry, earthy, funky, [with] a lot of herbs, and it’s very comforting in a way.
The Aylés’ "L" [rosé] is another fun one that’s really dark and rich as well. Usually rosés from warmer climates tend to have more skin extraction and be a little bit darker, so you could look to Southern Italy or Tavel in France [for wines that] will still translate amazingly into winter. If you’re looking for big, rich reds, Elisabetta Foradori makes a teroldego that is a complete rockstar treat of a wine; she is quite a pioneer in Italy of the biodynamic and organic movement, and the wines are quite sought-after.
It’s all female-vintner labels in your suggestions here, which leads me to: What kind of dynamics in the industry were you seeing that led you to open Vinovore?
When I first started it was obviously male-dominated, but in the last few years I’ve seen a lot of female winemakers coming to the forefront; that’s not to say there haven’t been female winemakers in the past, but especially in the emergence of California—I’m calling it “New California”—there are a lot of ladies making wine. So they were more on my radar, I was tasting more female-made wines, and it kind of paired with the climate of the world right now.
I know I’m not going to be changing anything by opening a wine shop but I wanted to do some sort of a part and feel like I was doing something to support women when I felt like there were a lot of things going against us. And it’s not just the wine industry that could be male-dominated—the entertainment industry is a good local example of boys’ clubs—and I thought, you know what, it was the right time, it felt good and why not?
For those unfamiliar with the wine industry—and really the beverage industry as a whole—being a boys’ club, can you give any examples?
When I would go to these bigger tastings, I was always treated like I didn’t know what I was doing or didn’t know anything about wine, and talked down to a little bit. Even with certain wine reps who would come to sell me wine would be telling me things that I knew, as if there would be no way I would know. I had a stigma when I was getting into it that wine was for old, rich white men and their cellars and their big Napa cabs, but as I peeled back the layers [I saw] that isn’t the case.
One thing that I found interesting in starting this process is I love Old World wines—wines from Italy, France, Spain—and most of those wines, these chateaus, have been in families for generations and it was always the sons who took over from these fathers and the grandfathers, or maybe the daughter’s husband. But I’ve been seeing a huge change in in the last 10 years because the wine that’s coming out now is [from] the daughters and the wives and the sisters who are taking over these chateaus. It’s been really inspiring that women are now trusted with this responsibility and know this is an option; they can go to oenology school, they can take over.
Another throughline that I’ve noticed is that when these women do take over these chateaus and vineyards and estates, that they almost always change their practices to organic and biodynamic and natural winemaking; obviously natural wine is a very big movement right now, but it seems to be very dear to female winemakers’ hearts and cause.
Are there any other trends or particular styles or flavor profiles you notice in wine made by women, as opposed to men?
Just to generalize, I’ve noticed that women tend to do as little interference as possible. What is important to them is the expression of the terroir, which is their land, the environment and the varietal of the grape itself. They don’t want to mess with much, and the wines end up being—to me—a little bit more refined, a little bit more elegant, a little bit more subtle.
Do you have any recommendations on Southern California wines made by women, or anything else local?
There aren’t really many wines made in Los Angeles, so to speak, but Santa Barbara is not far away. There’s actually some interesting wines coming out of San Diego; j.brix is one, and Tracey Brandt [of Donkey & Goat] makes amazing wine. Megan Bell [of Margins Wine] is up in the Santa Cruz mountains, which is kind of an underrated wine-growing region and she’s doing beautiful stuff; she studied in Loire [Valley, in France], and you can really tell; her chenin is just one of the best California chenins I’ve ever tasted—really refined and special.
Is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked you?
I’m just really proud of Vinovore, and being in restaurant businesses for a minute, I had some concerns about how people would receive the idea of all female winemakers—especially men—and my experience so far has been really positive. There’s been no negative pushback, which is a very encouraging feeling, especially with the way things are in the world. It’s making me feel good that this is working.
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