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By Ken Kim

Times Wine Writer


W
ine Time is a tinv. Euro-
pean-style wine store lo-
cated on a back street of
Sinsa-ctong. which borders Apk1l-
jung-dong, Kangnams fashi on-
able district. Tiny, bur it has a
much bigger story ro telL because
this store is a symbol of how the
Korean wine
industry has
evolved into
what it is lo-
dav.
Wine Time
is a unit of the
Nara Food
Company.
which also
leases the
wine section
of the Hyundai Department store
just a mile away. Until the acqui-
sition of the Hyundai store outlet,
Wine Time was the only retail
wine sales outfit around.
Early on, Wine Time's sales vol-
ume was small. as wines were im-
ported and sold mainly to the ma-
jor hotels in town. Very few, if
any, retail sales were made to
walk-in customers, as the shop
was virtually unknown to the pub-
lic. Today, however, this tiny
store is dedicated to vol.ume cor-
porate sales as well as oth.er quan-
tily-oriented retail customers.
The man responsible for all this is
Hur Dong-jo. whose wine educa-
tion began when he fl!St stepped in-
to the hotel industry as a beUboy in
1986. According to Mr. Hur. dur-
ing that time he wasn't doing any-
thing particular as far as his career
was concerned. One dav. a friend
of him already in hotel business
suggested to him to come to work
at the Holidav Inn then known as
the Garden Hotel. His first job there
was working as a bellboy because
his English language skill was bet
ter than average.
Since his accidental step into the
world of hotel business. he ended
up working for the hotel industry
for the next ten vears until he be-
gan running Wine Time. As vou
mav have guessed it. he was lilter
promoted to the position of ban-
quet waiter when he was trans-
The Korea Times
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21, 2001 1 3
Wine Time
ferred to the Westin Chosen. Prior
to moving on to the Westin. he al-
so worke'ct brietlv at Hotel Shilia
as bell capmi;L A.ll these were
taking place in 1980s :uid he
qukkly moved on to become :1
or:; wine
His sommelie.r experiences first
:>tarred at Hugo. then flagship
eaterv at the Grand H vatt of Seoui
then 'onto Barron at the Grand In-
ter-Continental in Sam$Ul1f!dom:
where he worked for most of his
sommelier career.
A sommelier is the job title for
the waiters or waitresses at the
restaurants who know most about
wine servings. The subject of
wine is very involved as the grape
variety and origins vary according
to the patrons' preference. Som-
meliers are easily identifiable as
they wear a silver ashtray like ob
ject on their neck called a tastevin.
Together with his on-the-job
trai.ning, Mr. Hur was the first one
80
to organize the Korea Sommeliers
Association for which he served
as the first president. At the same
time. he also was at the first place
.among fellow members for his
outstanding ability to tell the char-
acteristics of wines tasted while
blindfolded. The Sopexa, the se-
mi-governmental French commer-
cial representative in Seoul, orga-
nized this competition and it was
held in 1996.
The occupation of sommelier re
quires a. great deal of sensing abil-
ity by both the nose and mouth or
better known as the palate so that.
they can easily identify the ele-
ments in wines as they, some-
times, need to settle the cus-
tomers' complaints on the spot.
Usually these people are born
with such talents as some of them
are also working in the perfume
industry as perfume judges in or-
der to tell the quality of products
they produce. In addition, they
must also be familiar with the
grape variety as well as the style
of wine among others.
Mr. Hur' s assessment of the
wine culture here in Korea is that
folks are now beginning to under-
stand its true meanings. Prior to
the Asian financial crlsis. people
were buying wines in rather high
volume just the way they did with
the French Cognac. according to
Hur. Without enjoying them sip-
by-sip. they just drunk like a fish.
No wonder many_ got sick after-
ward,just the way people do with
soju. Unlike soju or whisky. wine
is a fermented substance so one
can get sick by drinking more than
what was meant to be.
His personal estimate for the cur-
rent volume of wine sales is ar
around 80% of pre-1997 era.
Howl!ver these sales go to those
who trulv enJ ov drinkln< wine$
.; " e
rather than those who buy wine
for fashion or as a curiositv item.
Mr. Hur' s future vision for wine is
to see that cverv "samgvopsal"
restaurant in wi!rreplacc
soju with wine so there will be
bs akohol rel:lted diSt':bes. like
liver failure. Samgyopsal is. by
the way, a favorite. local barbe-
cued. pork delicacy. Call (0:2-548-
3720i if you would like to droo bv
WincTime.