Helen Johannesen

Helen Johannesen

Owner of Helen's Wines and Partner and Beverage Director at Jon & Vinny's

For me, my ability to evolve in this industry has captured me to stay in it and be more creative, and I feel very lucky for that. It’s different every single day. I have ideas that I’m passionate about that I then translate into programs and classes. It’s very refreshing that we have the constant ability to regenerate, learn and move around to enhance our skills.

An important turning point in my career was about about 8 years ago, when I started working with Jon and Vinny at Animal. They trusted me to shape service, and revamp the wine program, however I saw best. I had minimal experience. I had everything and nothing to lose all at once, but that made me focus, and work to do it all myself. That tone laid the groundwork for us to be business partners today!
It’s incredibly important to be curious, disciplined, and have the courage to ask questions so you can always better your understanding. You can’t necessarily teach these skills, they have to be in you.
I look for people who have a strong ability to communicate, who can articulate their thoughts, and those who look you in the eye. A sense of humor is also a must. I look for human traits. People who can retain information and and who are eager to learn. Organized in ways that I’m not. You can’t just hire yourself, I look to hire people that have strengths in different areas than I do.
It’s the simple act of conversation, being truly interested in working with my team keeps them inspired but also myself.I make a point to get to know everyone, not only their name but something new about them every day. For my wine crew, we do weekly in depth private study sessions - it’s a collaborative process. It's not just me teaching. I include them in all of my tasting appointments, teach them how to taste wine, how to buy, and how to be comparative. There are so many options, but how to taste, evaluate, and pinpoint the highlights is crucial to building a great wine program. It’s important to be more patient to select the wines for the list. It also builds a dynamic team atmosphere!
I have a lot of books at home, especially a lot of reference books. I listen to the Cru podcast. It is people at my level that are working at the similar capacity as me that I find very resourceful. I like reading what Allen Meadows is writing, because he has an objective opinion and I appreciate his honesty in his wine reviews. One of the best resources we have are are the importers website's, they are very helpful when you are looking for information about small producers.

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