According to my friend, who lives nearby, the West Hollywood neighborhood of Spaulding Square used to be “hooker central.” The convenience store at 7714 Fountain Avenue was especially grungy, the kind of place you’d go to buy “one-ounce bottles of Jack Daniel’s, a single cigarette and a lottery ticket.” Times have changed for Spaulding. Hookers have fled, a two-bedroom bungalow costs about $1.6 million, and the square is the setting for the fashionable Showtime series “The L Word.” Thanks to Susan Brink, sister Molly and business partner Tracy Hof, 7714 has experienced a similar revival, culminating with the opening of Venokado on Friday, September 5.
According to Susan Brink, the trio gave Venokado a “made up phonetic name for “wine” in Italian and “gift” in French,” since that’s their two specialties. The Brinks owned and operated an online gift business beginning in 1999. They were compelled to go brick-and-mortar after discovering a property with a house attached that came with a beer and wine license. Given the license, Susan was compelled to become a sommelier. She’s on hand every day to dispense wine advice, and has also written the wine lists to accompany Brandon Boudet’s food at Dominick’s and Little Dom’s.
Susan Brink pinpointed three factors that differentiate Venokado from other wine shops around town: “It’s a serious wine shop with expert, one-on-one wine service. Labels you can’t find anywhere else. Also, you get gift wrap.”
Susan led a tour of her wooden wine wall, pointing out favorite bottles along the way. She pointed out a wine exclusive to Venokado (and Dominick’s): Gargiulo from Oakville in Napa Valley, with grapes sourced from Money Road Ranch. Gargiulo’s 2004 Merlot costs $42, and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon runs $87. Susan considers prices reasonable, saying, “We want to be that store where we know you’ll get the best price.”
Palmina Botasea (botasea = little barrel) is a Lompoc winery that benefits breast cancer research. Thus the pink label. Susan pointed out that it’s made from three Italian varietals: nebbiolo, barbera and dolcetto. “It’s full bodied, with strawberries and earth and a citrus finish.”
Susan’s favorite champagne is Camille Saves ($52) from A Bouzy. “It’s brioche and slight citrus and biscuit, with bubbles that just fill your mouth.”
Finally, she pointed out the Olivier Pithon Saturne Cotes du Roussillon 2004. Susan revealed that Olivier is a winemaker who has a pet cow. When he moved to make wine in France, he managed to keep his cow, but had to give up his chickens, which resulted in a poultry feast.
Some of Susan’s favorite gifts are votive candles that cast tree-shaped shadows on walls and wooden bookends shaped like beavers and rabbits. You’ll also find hugging ghost salt and pepper shakers and several different plush stuffed alligators.