Vintner Turns His Attention To Grapes From Korea

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Vintner Turns His Attention To Grapes From Korea

Kenneth Kim, a vintner based in California, is turning his attention to Korean wine grapes.

Mr. Kim, 59, recently sampled muscat grapes grown in Ansung, Kyonggi province, and declared them "something like a German riesling." A French missionary is said to have brought the grapes to Korea 100 years ago from the southern Rhone area of France.

"The sugar level is pretty low, but I'm definitely going to try it next year," Mr. Kim said. This year's harvest season has already passed.

Mr. Kim started Kenneth Kim Vineyard "by accident" in 1989 on an 8-hectare (20-acre) vineyard in Los Gatos, California.

One of only a few Korean winemakers, Mr. Kim has grown chardonnay, cabernet and pinot noir grapes. His last crop, harvested between late September and early October, was below average, Mr. Kim conceded. He said he had not been able to oversee his vineyard personally this year because he spent the summer in Korea.

Mr. Kim's decision to try Korean muscat grapes was partially based on competition from "big players" in California. Vineyards such as Robert Mondavi Winery and Kendall-Jackson are significantly larger and well recognized.

Kenneth Kim Vineyard is still a hobby, Mr. Kim said, but it is "almost" an enterprise.

He became enamored with wine culture while traveling in Europe during the mid-1980s. "Wine relates you back to rich European roots," he said. "I have tremendous respect for European civilization."

After selling his computer business, HiTech International Inc., in the early 1990s, Mr. Kim began to concentrate on growing grapes and making wine.

"It's always been my dream to have a ranch," Mr. Kim said. "I'm an earthy person. I enjoy working with soil."

Raised in the countryside of Taegu, Korea, Mr. Kim moved to the United States when he was 24. About three years ago, he came back to Korea to promote wine. "I have a passion I want to share with Koreans," he said.

While here, he established the Wine Connoisseur Club, which meets every Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. to sample reds, roses and whites, including some of Mr. Kim's wines. At the end of October, the club moved from Hongik University to a new cellar near Ehwa Women's University. For information call Mr. Kim at 011-479-7843.

Over the last few years, the club has evolved from a strict wine-tasting event to a social gathering as well. Tasting wine promotes friendship - and more. Mr. Kim said he knew of one couple who met at the club and subsequently married - a Canadian and an American who tied the knot last summer.

Later this month Mr. Kim will travel to the Middle East to learn about ancient wine. The club will continue to meet while he is gone.

by Joe Yong-hee

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