Best New Sommelier 2017

Justin King | Bridge Street Social, Dewitt

We asked, and top sommeliers around the country answered with the names of the most talented newcomers to the restaurant scene. They singled out six sommeliers who are making a strong impression after fewer than four years as lead wine buyers.

What does it take to get a vote from the toughest of critics? Enthusiasm, tenacity, grace and professionalism, to start. Couple that with juggling other projects, long hours on the floor, the inevitable grunt work and furthering their own knowledge and educating others. Let us introduce you to our Best New Sommeliers of 2017.

It was a visit to Ten Bells in NYC that sealed it. “Within twenty minutes, I knew I wanted to open Bridge Street,” Justin King recalls. “Not that I wanted to replicate Ten Bells, but the vibe—it was like an elixir. The place exudes joie de vivre. It’s lively, sexy; if you are taking a third date to Ten Bells, you’re probably in a good spot.”

He’s dedicated to the education of his staff, making Bridge Street Social one of the most well-trained restaurants in the state. His extensive glass-pour program is in a league of its own. No guest leaves unsatisfied. — Gerry Baker, Wolfgang Puck Steak, MGM Grand, Detroit
When he returned to Lansing, his Michigan hometown, he and a friend immediately began scoping out locations, deciding to focus on DeWitt, an up-and-coming suburb where the community board welcomed the idea of a wine-focused spot. “Michigan has a big beer scene,” King says. “What we do is very different from that.” The idea wasn’t just a wine bar, but a place that would attract locals as well as hospitality professionals interested in upping their wine game. King had worked for a local wine distributor, and he leveraged those contacts to quickly build a list of 150 wines by the glass, including many of the producers he’d discovered while working in stores and restaurants back in college. “It’s designed to keep the lights on,” he jokes, pointing out familiar favorites like Rombauer chardonnay. Yet it’s also crafted to lead people to unexpected places, whether Italy’s Valle d’Aosta, lesser-known corners of France’s Loire Valley or the vineyards of Greece.

When it comes to training, everyone on staff gets the chance to taste all the wines he pours by the glass; they also gain access to frequent blind tastings and seminars. If someone decides to go for their Master Sommelier credentials, when they pass an exam along the way, he’ll cover the fee. “I wanted to do something that was part of me, and something for Michigan,” he explains. “I want people to do things here. I live here. I want to die here. I want to raise my kids here.”

Justin is driven, warm and committed to pushing himself, fellow sommeliers and his restaurant team beyond the demands of the market. — Rachel van Til, Pappas Bros., Dallas

This sommelier was featured in W&S October 2017.
photo by Jena McShane