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It’s a normal thing to have a little bit of hometown pride, but on occasion, an outside source can confirm that it’s well-founded. That’s exactly the case with Justin King, 37, the resident sommelier at Bridge Street Social in DeWitt. For his exceptional work at the local dinner spot and wine bar, King was highlighted in Wine & Spirits Magazine among six up-and-coming sommeliers from California to Texas as one of the “Best New Sommeliers of 2017.” Hometown pride indeed.
We caught up with Justin to ask him about being chosen, how he keeps the 150-bottle wine list strong at Bridge Street Social and about some tasty Michigan wines.
How did you hear the news? Josh from Wine & Spirits wrote me at the end of July and asked me about some certification stuff about a project that he was working on. And I said, ‘That sounds pretty interesting.’ So I called him.
I was walking my son around the neighborhood in a stroller and he’s asking me about my job background, what I had been doing. So, I walked him through a couple of jobs and what I did. He’s like, ‘O.K. great. So just want to let you know that you’re eligible to be in our best new sommeliers issue and we’re going to put you in it!’
What makes someone eligible to be put on the list?
The best new sommeliers thing is only voted on by people who have had a role of being a buyer for basically a restaurant. It’s not really something that’s been open to the public. If you’ve been a buyer for a restaurant, then Wine & Spirits Magazine will send you an email with a code to be able to vote for this. I got one and I voted for some people that I know in Michigan, some people who I know who are doing some really good things. And have worked in the industry less than four years as a sommelier.
It’s not meant for somebody who’s been working in restaurants for 20 years. I’ve been in sales for basically a decade, but I’ve only been on the restaurant side for roughly 3 years at this point.
What’s the secret to the wine list’s success at Bridge Street Social?
Planning a wine list is both moderately easy and insanely difficult, and there’s a balance to putting it together that will make your guests happy and save you some headaches. I think it starts by talking about logistics.
There are 20 different companies right now that could sell me wine and those companies want to make money by selling me wine, but they don’t want to waste their time by selling me two wines, sending a truck out there and wasting gas money for really tiny orders, so there’s a balance and essentially an agreement that one goes through as a buyer, as a sommelier.
You want to work with companies that will help you solve headaches when the products are out of stock, or they send the wrong things. Besides the business side of this job is more interesting than just working the floor and shaking hands and saying hi to people and pouring wine.
It’s so much fun to be able to pour a table a Xinomavro from Greece and then they say, ‘Well I really dig like-bodied wines like that from the states. Do you have anything like that?’ and then you can pour four different Pinot Noirs, two from California, one from Oregon and one from Michigan. It’s stuff like that, that we can put together and makes it worth it. Because the amount of enjoyment from regulars and first-timers is the reason I got into the business.
With this national recognition, do you have any plans to expand your current location?
All I can say at this point is that things are moving. We are certainly looking at options and as things evolve, we are excited to try different concepts.
We could open a business outside of Michigan — that’s possible. But I love being here. I love the people, I love my family. Do I have interest in other cities? Absolutely I do. But my home is here and that’s not going to change.
What are some wines you’d recommend for Michiganders?
If you don’t want to spend a ton of money but you really want a bang for your buck, there’s a fair amount of wine coming from Shady Lane Cellars on Leelanau Peninsula that has dynamite stuff. Their semi-dry Riesling is outstanding, their Pinot Noir Rosé is outstanding.
I’m a huge fan of Two Lads Winery on Old Mission peninsula. I think overall their whole lineup is amazing.
One of my favorite wines in Michigan is the Cabernet Franc from Brys Estate. It’s on Old Mission Peninsula and it’s a little bit more expensive for what you get from Shady Lane Cellars, but the Cabernet Franc from Brys Estate rivals some of the better Cabernet Francs I’ve had from the Loire Valley in France which is where Cabernet Franc is from. It’s really exciting to see that sort of profile being made in Michigan.