Minjoo Kim, Advanced Sommelier, began her foray into food and wine training to become a chef and received her Culinary Arts Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, Australia. It was during her time as a culinary apprentice that she realized her passion for wine and sought to further her education at the International Culinary Center in New York, enrolling in the Intensive Sommelier Training program. In 2013, after passing the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory and Certified Sommelier Exams at ICC, she returned to Korea to begin her wine career. Over the years Minjoo has worked as both Manager and Chief Sommelier for Hannam Liquor, retail shop and wine bar, as well as a tasting educator for the International Food and Wine Society, and Judge of the Korea Sommelier Wine Awards and Korean Wine Fair. In 2017 she passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier Exam.
What was your first (or most fond) memory of wine to date?
A glass of Vouvray, Huet ‘Le Haut Lieu’ demi-sec.
When did you know that studying wine would be a passion you’d like to pursue professionally?
While I was studying at ICC, the Master Sommeliers inspired me to believe that one day I could possibly do this like them.They were amazing.
Your extensive range of culinary and wine education ranges from a Culinary Art Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu’s Sydney, Australia campus as well as ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program in 2013 and more. What made you decide to move forward with a wine career over a more traditional culinary path?
I learned that wine could be more than just an alcoholic beverage when I visited Sydney’s fascinating restaurant Sepia—two hats ranked ay that time—to try a pairing menu for study as a culinary apprentice. Before that I wasn’t very fond of alcoholic beverages and simply hated drinking. But that night I was overwhelmed and began noticing that wines could be just more than alcoholic beverage. It was at that moment that I decided to learn about wines. That is what brought me to New York City and ICC right after finishing my 2 and a half year culinary path. I believe that knowing and understanding wine broadens my culinary horizon.
You recently received your AS [Advanced Sommelier] certification. [Congratulations!] What was the most difficult hurdle you faced prior to achieving this status?
I actually didn’t receive my certification the first time I took the Advanced Sommelier exam, despite passing the Theory and Blind Tasting portions. With only have 5 years of experience as a sommelier and having never worked for any formal, fine dining restaurants, I believe it was my minimal service experience that was the biggest reason I didn’t pass the exam. But I can tell you that I definitely learned a lot from that failure. Last year, I retook the Advanced Sommelier exam and passed my second time around!
What has been the most rewarding experience thus far in your wine career?
For the past three years I had been working as both a manager in a retail wine shop and chief sommelier for a wine bar at the same time and place up until very recently. During this time, it was difficult to balance my roles in both sections. But it provided me with experience and communication skills for both wine retail and service, as well as the opportunity to try many interesting promotions, events and educational classes. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot!
Your extensive background in wine has landed you as a judge in 2017 for both the Korea Sommelier Wine Awards and the KWC (Korean Wine Fair.) Through these particular experiences and beyond, do you feel that mentorship plays an important role for those looking to develop a career in the field? If so, why?
I think that mentorship is a crucial part of this industry. I see many people who have mentors easily approach their goals and achieve what they are trying to go after. It’s important for those just entering the wine world to have mentors like I did. At the very beginning, I was struggling with no one to discuss matters I encountered like big career path decisions, preparing for competitions and the Advanced Sommelier exam, etc. I still hope I can find someone to seek help and advice from, but I also want to be the someone who can help future sommeliers.
If you weren’t a professional sommelier or chef, what career path would you have gone down?
I’ve always aspired to find beautiful things in my life such as food and wine. My major in University was Fashion, so I’m guessing I would have worked vigorously in any fashion business with a beautiful glass of wine!
For any new individuals looking to make their mark on the world of wine, please share your advice for a flourishing wine career?
Have passion and be full of energy. With that combination, you can make any mark you wish. I learned this from five of the Master Sommeliers I met while taking the program at ICC.
What are your professional goals for the next few years? Any exciting news on the horizon to share?
I definitely want to take the Master Sommelier exam in the next few years and want to do anything I can here to help the wine industry in Korea grow. Without growth in this industry, there is no dream for us Sommeliers.