After 23 years in the restaurant industry, Coly Den Haan—a certified sommelier and co-owner of Los Angeles–based restaurant Hot Hot Food—decided she was ready to branch out and tackle a new enterprise: wine retail. “I thought it was a good time to challenge myself with something I hadn’t done before,” Den Haan explains. “And in trying to think of what retail niche I could fill, I thought it would be amazing to do a full focus on female winemakers.” In September, her vision was realized with the debut of Vinovore, a wine shop in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood that puts the spotlight squarely on women.
Vinovore currently offers a selection of around 180 wines, and all but 5 percent are produced by female winemakers. Of the few wines in the lineup made by men, women are still very much involved in the process, whether they own the winery or manage the business end. Additionally, the offerings largely trend toward the natural wine category. “We’re about 80-percent to 90-percent natural,” Den Haan says. “I’ve found natural wines seem to resonate with female winemakers as something that they’re extremely passionate about. They let the grape stand alone and express itself, and do as little as possible to the wine.” All wines are priced from $12 to $54 a 750-ml., with the majority falling under $20. As the holiday season comes into full swing, however, Den Haan will look for more high-end, celebration-oriented selections. Eventually, she hopes to have a total of 250 SKUs.
While Den Haan aspires to curate an international inventory of wines, she acknowledges that it’s tricky to have a full global selection when female winemakers are the main criterion; some countries simply don’t have many. Despite this, she’s unearthed plenty of exciting labels. “There are some amazing female winemakers coming out with great wines here in California—for example, Faith Armstrong with Onward Wines and Martha Stoumen with her eponymous brand,” she says. “As a personal fan of Old World wine, it’s the first time in several years that I’ve been excited by California.” Den Haan also notes the surprisingly large number of female winemakers coming out of New Zealand, from which she’s sourced several selections for her store.
Female winemakers may be paramount to Vinovore’s premise, but so too is its categorization system. In order to help customers better understand the wide array of esoteric wines in stock, Den Haan and her business partner, Dean Harada, developed a tasting chart that revolves around nine different “vinovores”: Bronze T-Rex, Gold Owl, Green Snake, Orange Tiger, Purple Ape, Pink Pony, Silver Fox, Red Lion and Yellow Rabbit. Each vinovore represents a specific personality or mood, as well as the wine best suited to it. A Red Lion, for example, is characterized as smooth and debonair, befitting an earthy, smoky red wine. Customers identifying with this personality can easily navigate the wine wall by looking for red stickers, which denote Red Lion wines. “If it’s an obscure varietal, like a Zweigelt from Slovenia, and you’ve never heard of it, but you see a red dot, then you know it will have flavor profiles in your wheelhouse,” Den Haan explains. “You can try something new without worrying that you won’t enjoy it.”
Though Vinovore is still in its infancy, the response and general reaction to the shop have been “really positive, even from our male customers,” according to Den Haan. She and Harada have plenty of plans for Vinovore’s future, including the addition of a micro-bookstore within the shop, which would eventually serve as a center for pairing classic novels with wine. Expansion is also on the table, with talk of debuting additional locations in Los Angeles and beyond in the future. “Hopefully we can bring a lady-loving Vinovore to every neighborhood,” Den Haan says. “That’s the long-term goal.”