EXPLORING KOREA: Wine Tasting at the Kenneth Kim Winery

by Megan K. O'Brien, 07/07/2011

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Recently I had the opportunity to attend a wine tasting at Kenneth Kim's winery in Anseong. The guest list was a small hand picked group of individuals, who represented a variety of different occupations, time spent in Korea and places of origin, but the thing that we all have in common is an interest in great wine.

After meeting at the City Hall stop of the Seoul Metro, the guests were picked up in a reserved bus and we began the journey. Our first stop was at the Gupo-dong church in Anseong. Immediately as we were getting off the bus, we were individually greeted by the very welcoming Ken Kim. Once all the guests were off the bus, we walked to the courtyard where we were given some history as to how wine was introduced to Korea, as well as an introduction to how Mr. Kim himself developed a passion for wine. After a tour around the pleasant courtyard and humble garden of the church grounds, we all went back on the bus to head to our next destination.

The next place we stopped was Mr. Kim's own winery. At this point we were out in the countryside and the rain had turned the peaceful mountains and surrounding fields a beautiful shade of green. While wine tasting, the place that you go to enjoy the wine is important and the scene at Kenneth Kim's Vineyard was certainly one that encouraged a full sensory experience. Mr. Kim invited us into a little building that he later explained he had built himself with the help of Anseong locals. Before us was a table of wine glasses and a room that resembled that of an intimate wine workshop. Mr. Kim, in his charismatic way, talked to us about the wine that we were about to try. That day,  he was sharing with us a Raw Muscat wine. Kenneth Kim's wines are very special as he blends his Raw Muscat wine with California Shiraz from his vineyard in Santa Cruz, CA. He owns property in California, which was hit by the 2008 Santa Cruz fires and he is currently in the process of rebuilding.

After sharing the history of his winery in Korea, we were invited downstairs to the barrel room built underneath the workshop. In a dark, damp, candle lit space, we were poured glasses directly from a barrel, an experience that none of us had had before. After this very special tasting, we went back upstairs to the bus because we were going to a restaurant to have the food and wine pairing portion of the day. When we arrived, we took off our shoes, found our spots at the low tables on the floor and were presented with a feast of Korean side dishes, fish, rice, soups and noodles.

Mr. Kim introduced the first wine, a Muscat White, which he explained paired well with foods like hobak jeon (Korean zucchini pancakes). Next was the Muscat Red, which was phenomenal, it was really something special. I have never tasted a red like it before. After some time, the food portion was winding down and Mr. Kim walked around and poured glasses of his Muscat Sherry and Muscat Port, at this point in the event people were talking about wine in that way that wine appreciators do, with fondness and nostalgia.

When it was time to leave, we gathered in the front of the restaurant and loaded back into the bus to go see a performance, but we had to change our plan as we had wined and dined longer than expected;  this being the mark of a successful dinner. Instead, we headed directly to the Grape Museum where Mr. Kim told us more about Anseong and the city's relationship with grapes and wine. An interesting little museum, but as everything is in Korean only, it was a bonus to have Mr. Kim there to translate. The stop at the museum concluded our tasting experience.

What I truly appreciated about this trip was, in addition to the great food and wine, was that we were given the opportunity to connect with the history, the place and the land in a way that really makes the wine an experience and not just a delightful beverage. I would argue that Mr. Kim's passion, skillful storytelling and wine expertise are what make the wines from Kenneth Kim's Vineyard significant and unique and I would encourage anyone who is interested to visit his vineyard or spend some time with a bottle of his wine.

About the Author: Megan also took the accompanying photo. You can read more of her impressions of Korea on her blog The Too Huge World

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