New club looks to boost Korean viticulture

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New club looks to boost Korean viticulture

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Your husband, a diplomat, is sent to a foreign country where you have no friends and don’t speak the language. What do you do?
You drink lots of wine. At least that was the solution chosen by Catherine Germier-Hamel, who arrived here last year. Along the way, of course, she’ll be gaining hundreds of new friends, educating the Korean public about viticulture and contributing to charity.
Ms. Hamel met Nicole Risse, head of the Europe Korea Foundation, in November 2005, but it wasn’t until last Wednesday the two launched their collaborative project, Wine and Women Korea, with a party at the Regency Room of the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Mount Namsan. The club plans to hold monthly meetings to educate its women (men are also welcome) on the winemaking process and help them tell a Bordeaux from a Burgundy and a Chardonnay from a Chablis.
The foundation is the charity arm of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea.
“When I came here last November, I was worried that I would have to get a real job. This is not a real job,” Ms. Hamel said, smiling. “But I worked in marketing for two years, and I’ve always wanted to help underprivileged people.”
Ms. Hamel plans to invite sommeliers and wine growers from around the world to bring their wines to Korea, hopefully giving them a chance to break into a new market. Ms. Hamel’s plans for cross-promotions also started Wednesday, with fashion, cosmetics and Tupperware booths set up in the waiting area.
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But the most important part will be the wine and the camaraderie. “Here in Korea, men drink with their company. But women drink for the social aspects,” says Ms. Hamel. The “wine lifestyle” is on the rise here, particularly among women, she says, and it’s important to make Korea’s wine culture a sophisticated one. “Wine is very culturally charged. We don’t want to force women to drink wine, we just want to help them build a taste for it.”
To that end, wines from France, Switzerland, Germany, South Africa, Canada, Hungary, Chile and Argentina were available for tasting at last week’s party, with experts and growers pouring and explicating for the over 300 guests, which included ambassadors and staff from numerous Seoul embassies.
The wine grower who helped inspire the Korean group was at the Swiss booth. Coraline de Wurstemberger is the head of the Swiss chapter of International Associated Women in Wine, a federation of such clubs that the Korean group can join after two years of continuous operation. Ms. Wurstemberger’s group is actually a Swiss women growers’ association called The Artisanes of Vines and Wines, and most of the wines she brought were grown in these small vineyards owned and operated by women.
Ms. Hamel praised Ms. Wurstemberger’s courage, and Ms. Risse looked forward to being a part of the federation. “If we join, our members can go to every country that is a part of this association and contact other members. It’s a great network.”
If the club’s membership continues to grow at this rate, it’ll have no trouble making international connections. Already the club has about 200 members, and the organizers are aiming high.
Someday, Ms. Hamel looks forward to a “Wine and Women Korea Approved” sticker on wine bottles in Korean retailers. “We might even open our own store!” she quipped.


by Ben Applegate

Wine and Women Korea’s first “Wine Focus” event will take place on April 11 at the Grand Hyatt, and monthly meetings will follow on every second Tuesday. For details, contact Nicole Risse at nicole.risse@ekf.or.kr or (019) 287-9495.

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