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Helynn Stephens Nelson

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The Wine Story

A chance encounter while vacationing in South Africa set my life on a clear path toward wine and I've never looked back.  


Disenchanted with practicing law, I returned from vacation with a new focus- South African wines.  On the way back home, my husband and I sketched ideas about an importing business on the back of South African Airways plane napkins trying to keep the memories of our trip alive.  We knew that we needed to return to the States (check), raise capital (clears throat), assemble a team of investors (choke) and educate ourselves on the finer elements of wine (twinkle). It was the education part for me!

We built the perfect plan on paper and I volunteered to find a 'wine school' so that when we back to South Africa to construct our portfolio, we would know good wine from dog water. At the time there were only two accredited wine schools in North American, The International Sommelier Guild (ISG) and the Court of Master Sommeliers.  I chose ISG because it was on the same Metro line as my law firm (convenience-score!) and I signed up for the entry level course at its next offering. 

In Wine 1, I met stay-at-home moms, retirees and a few burgeoning restaurant wine directors.  Washington, D.C. was always a food town, however, around 2007 it was transitioning from a politician's food town to a destination for foodies and wine was coming along for the ride. I think by the third or fourth glass, I was smitten.  I would return home every evening chatting non-stop and wanting to reteach my husband everything that I had learned in the last four hours.  I found my people and my passion.


After Wine 1, strong grades and curiosity landed me in Wine 2.  The class size decreased and the presence of more wine industry folk intensified.  My class introduction started something like, "no practicing law has not driven me to drink, I just had a spritual experience on vacation that I keep chasing. I'm starting an import businesss (blah, blah blah)."  Acceptance was easy with the new more serious crew.  Just know your stuff and take it seriously.  Wine got really serious in Wine 2.  We started forming study groups, meeting outside of class and tasting lots of wine.  The technique of blind tastings were introduced and the wines we used in class were 10x better than Wine 1.  We started making a commmitment together as a class that if offered, we would progress to Wine 3 together.  We had come so far and some farther than others.  Just a year and half into my formal wine education, I learned that my classmates in Wine 2 waited years for this class offering and it was almost unheard of that Wine 3 would be offered in succession.  With a collective plan we expressed our interest in continuing on.  We pleaded with him our wine instructor to teach the coveted Wine 3 curriculum.  It wasn't a given that the Guild would select him to teach it and/or that they would allow the offering in the States the following year.  We lobbied (it's D.C., right?!).  We won, well almost!

I wasn't an industry professional so I had to submit my test scores and get letters of recommendation to sit for Wine 3. The Guild had an image to uphold and they wouldn't just let any ol' body in without a firm commitment to uphold their ideals.  The same day that my instructor called me to tell me that I was approved, I had a litle plot twist of my own.  I was pregnant with my first daughter.   I told my wine instructor before I told my parents and I still remember his words, "I mean you're a lawyer, sign something that says you won't harm your kid and for God sakes spit."  Deal.  Wine 3 would prove to be an enormous undertaking of time and focus so I needed to make one more pit stop in the office of the partner I supported.  Wine was my lifeline and honestly the only thing keeping me motivated to produce for the firm. He understood and he said, "promise me your first case (lawyer joke) when you start importing." Now I can officially say, we won!  

Check out the first episode of my podcast to hear the rest of my story!  To whet your apetite...listen to what happened when I found out that my three-day final was scheduled to start on my due date. Ah life! 

The Fine Print: 

Helynn Nelson is the founder and creative director of Seedless Grapes.  She is an Advanced certified sommelier and wine educator.  Prior to receiving her sommelier diploma from the International Sommelier Guild, she enjoyed a career as an accomplished attorney in Washington, DC and now HR is her day job and wine is her life. 


I am a senior human resources professional committed to optimizing every worker's contributions and development. Through the fair, equitable, transparent and ethical treatment of all employees, I delivers superb support at the speed of need and provide the required tools any work space needs to perform at its best.


My professional success in human resources management stems from my ability to seamlessly integrate and leverage experiences as an employment litigator, recruiter, talent strategist, consultant and business partner. I have strategically partnered with various non-profit, governmental and for profit organizations to develop and implement performance management and employee development programs; implement employee relations strategies; address grievances and contract issues; and manage human resources and operations.


I believe that there are five essential skill sets that are relevant to workplace engagement – effective project management, data driven decision making, systems integration, critical thinking, and creativity.

The Fine Print: 

Helynn Nelson is the Queen of all things HR for Google's People Operations. She is also an adjunct professor at Villanova University's HR Masters program. Helynn is a proud graduate of Tulane University Law School and Spelman College. 


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Available on iTunes, Spotify, Google and all available platforms.


In Season 3 of HR Tea, we have a surprise for you... a new co-host! In this season, Bethany will be joined by Helynn Nelson, as they tackle episodes entirely focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Hear about intersectionality, mindfulness, parenting, political activism at work and so much more. (2021)

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Available on iTunes, Spotify, Google and all available platforms.


Hobbies and side hustles can seem like a distraction when you're on the law firm treadmill. But cultivating interests outside the law is often the ticket to figuring out what you really want to do career-wise. In this episode, Helynn Nelson shares about becoming a level 3 sommelier—and how it helped her figure out that she wanted to leave the law, and what she wanted to look for next.

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