Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Get to Know: Lorna Donohoe of L.A.'s Wilde Wine Bar

To Women who Wine, not Whine.

Wilde Wine Bar and Restaurant
Wilde Wine Bar

Women's History Month is on it's way out, but before it goes, we're shouting out women who are making moves in wine, spirits and the shoe industry... for the rest of the month. Today we feature Lorna Donohoe, the former marketing executive who founded Los Angeles' new female-friendly hot spot, Wilde Wine Bar and Restaurant. The Hankcock Park bar — named for writer, women's rights advocate and mother to Oscar Wilde, Lady Jane Wilde — kicked off its Women's History Month celebration with a special edition of its weekly "Wilde Wonder Women" networking event, where each female attendee received a complimentary cupcake and glass of bubbly. Additionally, on "Wilde Wednesdays," there are wine specials, tasting flights, winemaker meet-and-greets and other features that often spotlight women winemakers. Wilde Wine has been highly praised by OpenTable Diners and is already a celeb hangout (Mindy Kaling apparently loves their turkey meatballs in marinara). Lorna shared some wine tips with us, along with what made her name the bar after Jane Wilde and what she sips when she's off duty.

Lorna Donohoe, founder of Wilde Wine Bar
Lorna Donahoe, Founder of Wilde Wine Bar

SNB: Clearly Lady Wilde is inspirational, but what, specifically, made you feel so connected to her that she became the bar's namesake?

LD: Lady Wilde, (Oscar Wilde's mother) was a writer, poet, folklorist and early advocate of women's rights. I love that about her - I am Irish and my husband  Nader, (Wilde's executive chef) was born in Iran. Lady Wilde wrote a paper titled, "Are the Irish Really Iranian?" arguing that our language, myths and fables were closer than any other countries and that the ancient Persians had really migrated that far West, so that's ultimately what made me feel like the name was right for us. However, I also love the connotations of the word 'wild' as it conveys the kind of natural (organic and sustainable) food and wines that we are doing.

SNB: Your wine selecting skills have earned you quite a bit of recognition, what are 5 key terms our readers might want to look for on a menu if they're novices but want to seem sophisticated when ordering on a date or with coworkers?
LD: Honestly, at Wilde we try to break down the intimidation around ordering wine. Most menus don't have descriptors, you just see a bunch of words, usually in Italian or French. I would suggest ordering some less common grapes, everyone gets Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay or Pinot Noir or Malbec.   Try a white Vermentino or Muscadet or a red Carmenere.  Don't feel like you have to stick to Italy or France (Old World). New World wines from Spain, Chile, Portugal and Greece are pretty amazing.

Some terms you could use / might see:
"off-dry" (usually to describe a Riesling or a wine that is semi-sweet)
"fruit forward" (a wine can be juicy and fruity without being sweet)
Light (or delicate), medium or full- bodied” (describes the texture of the wine and feel of it in your mouth)
"nose" (refers to the aroma of the wine when you  smell it- is it floral or spicy?)
finish” (the feeling it gives your taste buds- do you notice a flavor of mineral or flint, meaning the wine tastes like the earth?).

Ultimately, buy the wine you like, there is no right or wrong - be adventurous. The sophistication is in confidence that you know what you like!

SNB: What wine do you sip on your days off?

Challen Winery Pinot Noir
Challen Pinot Noir, one of Donohoe's favorites

LD: I am a red drinker, so usually an Italian Red but I am enjoying a lot of Californian reds right now, including an incredible pinot noir from Challen Cates, the actress and winemaker.  Usually a pinot can be too light for me, but this is just a delight.

SNB: Which is the most popular glass of red and glass of white at Wilde?
LD: Our most popular red is an Oregon Pinot Noir (Left Coast Cellars) and a Californian Zinfandel (Cordon). Our most-ordered whites are the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Sardinian Vermentino.

SNB: Your Wilde Wednesdays showcase wines by women... we'd love to know about a few of those. Our readers who aren't in California may want to sip along.

Challen Wine Bottles
A selection of wines from Challen

LD: Each week we focus on a different grape, varietal or region - this month they are all female winemakers to celebrate Women's History Month. We’re featuring that amazing Pinot Noir by Challen Winery that I mentioned earlier. We also have have a yummy, buttery Chardonnay from MacCrostie Vineyards. Their head winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen became the youngest female head winemaker in California at the age of 27. Elisabetta Foradori is a legend in winemaking, single-handedly restoring a great Italian vineyard.  She only farms biodynamically. Our prosecco, Sommariva, which you can pick up at some Whole Foods, is vegan and the wine is made by Cinza Sommariva.  It over delivers for the price, too.

SNB: We love that you cater to women without pandering... how do you find that balance? Who did you have in mind as your target when you were creating Wilde?
LD: I spent a lot of my career (I was the Chief Marketing Officer at Playboy Enterprises) having to a balance marketing and catering to both men and women, so balancing how we market to both men and women without alienating any one group is probably ingrained in me.

My target was probably myself and my friends. In my earlier career at Playboy, I spent so much time having to be out at fancy places and parties and also traveling alone, that ultimately I craved the cozy little spots that you have in every town in Europe, the kind of place where a woman can go and sit at the bar by herself without feeling weird, but also the kind of place you can go on a date or with family and friends.   No fuss, but great food and wine where you feel like you're at home or at a good friend's place.

I believe there should be a moment of luxury in every day, so you don't need an occasion or to spend a lot of money to have a great glass of wine or sit down and have a coffee or just a moment to yourself or a drink with a friend.

I also hate cheap wine - all of our wines are sustainable or organic or small family vineyards but they don't break the bank,so I wanted to bring that to LA where there is a dearth of neighborhood-type bars that sell quality food and wine at a good price. We have visited restaurants - big names in LA - where the exact same wine we sell costs four times the price we sell it at Wilde. That's at least one pair of shoes!

We love the idea of savoring a moment of luxury every day. We also appreciate the reminder that true sophistication is in having the confidence to ask for what you want. Cheers!

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