PHOTOS by JASON O'NEIL
WRITING by CLAIRE BACHOFNER
INCLUDED IN THE LOCAL VOL. 1
When Jill Roberts and Colleen Casey opened the doors of The Hawthorn in 2015, they sought to create a gathering place in downtown Helena that honored their core values: robust community, authentic connection, wonderful flavors, and ultimate hospitality. If you ask me (or anyone in town) they nailed it.
It’s no secret that Helena locals carry a deep affection for their craft breweries. Jill and Colleen recognized that affection and saw an opportunity to expand upon it. Why not create a place where wine is just as accessible? Why not take the same casual approach and dress it up just a bit? Offer an atmosphere where guests can come after a long day, or have a place to go for special occasions, a birthday or date night, and have it feel truly special? Why not, indeed.
They were the perfect pair to take on that task. Between Jill’s extensive knowledge of wine and Colleen’s natural embodiment of a long standing family tradition of hospitality (Colleen is Jill’s Aunt so, really, this is a shared family tradition) the two women dreamed up what is now easily one of the most popular spots in Helena.
Jill’s wine education began during the time in her life when she was waiting tables to help support her career as a young actress. When she moved from Helena to New York, her knowledge and experience expanded and she climbed up the wine ladder, so to speak, as she went from distributor to supplier to wine coordinator in upscale restaurants making important connections all along the way. It’s obvious when talking to Jill about wine that her breadth of knowledge on the subject is vast. Her experience with the magical way wine encourages people to gather and connect is where her real wisdom lies. And that wisdom carries over into every choice and interaction that takes place within the four gorgeous walls of The Hawthorn.
Located on the iconic walking mall, The Hawthorn is a welcome ray of sunshine that has brought new life and energy to Helena’s historical downtown area. There’s always a clever quote handwritten in chalk on the sandwich board out front, music playing from the speakers above the small patio area, a beanbag toss set up in the summer and a gorgeous storefront that beckons in the most irresistible way.
Guests of The Hawthorn are treated with utmost respect in a way that feels less like a “service” and more like a way of life. Look, here’s the thing, anyone can come up with a great wine list if they really do their research. Okay, maybe not like Jill, her wine list is killer. However, the thing that makes The Hawthorn so special and rare in this regard is that their list includes wines from all over the world that are challenging to pronounce, let alone know much about, but that doesn’t matter here. Whether guests arrive able to recite the complete history of wine and can order a glass of Lapalu Chateau Patache d’Aux with a perfect French accent, or they grew up drinking strawberry Boon’s Farm from a half gallon jug, they will be treated with the same level of respect. The staff will eagerly share their knowledge and engage in friendly conversation. They meet people where they’re at. They want you to come as you are. They go out of their way to put you at ease. Experiencing this level of service anywhere feels like a treat but at a charming little bottle shop in Helena, Montana? It feels like you’ve just struck gold.
In addition to the impressive selection of reds, whites, bubblies, beers, and some gorgeous in-between bottles. The Hawthorn also offers a generous list of by the glass pours, a perfectly paired list of light fare ranging from Thai peanuts and jimmy crack corn to chicken liver pate, and cheese or charcuterie boards. Often, there are many “flights” to choose from which is always a fun and interactive way to taste beer and wine and they’ve even come up with a list of “cocktails” that put a new spin on old favorites. Excellent non-alcoholic alternative available as well, of course.
The ambiance is warm, chic, rustic, and stylish. Wine bottles are displayed in ways that create a feast for the eyes. All the different labels, colors, shapes, and bottles combine to create some kind of masterpiece that speaks for itself. There are candles burning at each table, the glassware is exquisite, each guest is given their own tall chilled bottle of water (hooray!), and the bill comes attached to a gorgeous postcard with The Hawthorn location and contact information as the return address so happy guests can share the love.
More often than not, great wines come from great family traditions and they carry with them the stories of generations. They are born, cultivated, and fine-tuned through hard work and gathered experience. The end product of picking, growing, stomping, mixing, and blending strives to satisfy. A great wine will warm you at the soul level. If given the chance, the story behind it will enrich and inspire you. The Hawthorn Bottle Shop and Tasting Room is just like that.