C California Style

A late-summer evening in the backyard.
Reds included a Gevrey-Chambertin and Savigny-lès-Beaune.
Marinated tomato with burrata and basil.
Animal group wine director Helen Johannesen.
Flowers by Hollyflora.
Host Heather Taylor sets the table; pitchers by Adam Silverman; linens by Heather Taylor Home.
Golden beets and oranges with white balsamic and fennel pollen.
Chef Vinny Dotolo proffers marinated olives alongside “Mike’s” fresh focaccia.

Uncorked

by C California Style

Heather Taylor and Helen Johannesen host a backyard preview to celebrate Animal’s new wine shop.

Few occasions call for the elusive mulberry. After all, they’re messy, the bushes are prickly and the yield is low. But when linen designer and respected tastemaker Heather Taylor started planning a dinner with Helen Johannesen, Animal group wine director, Taylor says one of the first calls was to florist Holly Vesecky (Hollyflora): “Her mom lives on a huge farm in Ojai. They picked them the day before and drove them down.”

The duo gathered their creative posse for a preview of Johannesen’s new shop, situated within Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook’s forthcoming project (across from Animal in Los Angeles). “Helen’s” will offer retail wine and delivery as well as indulge her passion for educating collectors. (Don’t let her sandy curls and fascination with fashion fool you; this exuberant sommelier has a deep knowledge that goes far beyond marquee labels.)

Beneath twinkling lights in Taylor’s ivy-enclosed backyard, a farmhouse table was set with Taylor’s stylish embroidered placemats and Heath Ceramics plates. Hollyflora arrangements mingled dahlias and pale-pink pomegranates, while soft white sheepskin protected against the evening chill. And you know you’re in for something special when star potter Adam Silverman lends platters and pitchers from his personal collection.

Though Trois Mec spin-off Petit Trois would open the following day, Dotolo arrived to cook family-style dishes from the yet-to-be-named venture with Johannesen: an Italian concept that will focus on colorful salads, pastas and gluten-free options. Conversation drifts in and out as salads circle the table—among them a green garlic Caesar with market lettuces, Idyllwild cheese and bread crumbs; chili-flecked beets and oranges; and a cazuela brimming with gluten-free eggplant marinara. After vintage Champagne and snappy Bandol, Johannesen introduces a trio of complex whites from France, Italy and Austria. “They’re hot to buy—not just to drink but to collect,” she says of a chenin blanc from a producer she recently visited in Saumur—one whose small parcels are aged, she recounts, in a cellar where troglodytes once resided. She swirls. “It’s got an electric, subtle honey coating, so different from Burgundy, which is so much more classical.”

Later, as friends linger around the fire pit, the cheesecake disappears, the mountain of berries dwindles, the Gevrey-Chambertin and Savigny-lès-Beaune drop below shoulder. All, of course, telltales of a most successful evening. animalrestaurant.com.

Written by Alison Clare Steingold.
Photographed by Nancy Neil.