Yoojin Ahn shares weird wine facts and insights into her ambitions and passion

Yoojin Ahn spent years in the tech industry, spearheading and developing new businesses and traveling all around the world. Finding herself hungry for more personal pursuits, she left the industry to pursue her love of wine, amongst other things. A versatile Renaissance woman, Yoojin’s passion for wine started at a young age. When she decided it would be her life going forwards, she has been met with challenges, life lessons and incredible milestones. Having secured the impressive designation of the first South Korean Weinakademiker, her ambition does not stop here. Yoojin has her sights set on becoming a Master of Wine next. In this exclusive interview with Resonate, Yinsey Wang interviews Yoojin on her journey so far, tips and insights, as well as her plans for the future.

YW: You are a woman in the tech industry, balancing an exciting and dynamic career and also a passion for wine. Can you tell us a bit more about how you manage your time across these and what your tips are for developing new skills outside of work?

YA: Well, guess you could say that ‘I was a woman in the tech industry’ as I’ve left the industry for about 3 years now to pursue my interests in wine and amongst other things. During my career, honestly, I did not have the luxury of time to pursue anything of personal interest as the roles that I had were mainly spearheading and developing new business that also required a lot of travel. I guess you could say that I never had a 9-5 job in any conventional sense.  The reality is, a lot of business development roles do not offer a lot of opportunities to balance anything between work and personal pursuits unless you have a very strong support system around you. I simply never achieved that elusive ‘balance’ whilst being successful in my roles.

Personally, tips for developing new skills outside of work realistically truly depends on the type of job you have and the stability of your business and company, job security and whether you have the luxury of time (and extra funds) you can invest in developing a new skillset. So, when time is precious, I do think it is important to be selective and pick something you love and challenges you. For me, that was wine.

Initially, wine was something that I enjoyed a lot and had a lot of appreciation and curiosity for. It was also something I learned to know better as it was a useful tool to entertain my clients with. I never dreamed of pursuing it as I thought it was something only a sommelier working at a restaurant would do and that was and still is not something I aspire towards. So, I had no idea there was an education program available to those who wanted to pursue wine academically. I signed up to WSET Level 1 back in 2019 just as a self-challenge to test myself on my wine knowledge. Guess you could say that I got bitten by the wine-bug… and the rest is history!

YW: You are the first South Korean Weinakademiker! Did you always plan for this or was it unexpected that your journey would get this far? 

YA: Yes, I was quite thrilled to be awarded the title of Weinakademiker in Austria but also to be the first South Korean to receive the title, as it is ‘awarded’ to you and there is a code of conduct and constant upkeep of wine knowledge that has to be respected and upheld to retain the title. I am now 1 out of 850 members globally who have been given this title.

I always knew I was going to get there. I went from achieving WSET Level 1 to finishing Level 4 WSET Diploma (DipWSET), Italian Wine Scholar (IWS) Certification and the additional Weinakademiker title all under 3 years and I am not finished yet. I still have my eyes on achieving Master of Wine in the coming years. I am definitely no longer just a wine lover nor hobbyist. I take it seriously.

YW: How did you get into wine in the first place? Do you remember your first alcoholic drink?

My first glass of wine I had was from my father when I was  12 years old over dinner, just to taste. His reasons were that it was important to know how to approach alcohol but also as a girl, to know how to hold her drink. I think it was a good approach to learn not to abuse alcohol. I still remember it quite clearly. It was a Bordeaux Grand Cru by Mouton Rothschild. At the time, I did find it vile!

I started getting into wine, as in appreciating it and preferring it as my choice of drink, further along high school and university years. I just preferred the taste of wine over hard liquors, beer or cocktails. Also, being a big foodie myself, think I got more curious noticing how bottles tasted different and how varieties from different regions tasted different. And hey, let’s face it, a wine swirling in a glass is just damn sexy to look at!

YA: What is your favourite wine of all time? If you could drink it anywhere in the world, with anyone you wish and alongside any type of food to complement, could you describe what this would look like?

Hard to pick one really and my preference changes all the time! Wine world is so big and diverse that it would almost be a disservice to pick only one. But I do have preference for well-rounded older vintages of red wines above all else.

A bottle of wine truly becomes more memorable and sometimes even more outstanding when shared with people I love and care for as we are emotional beings and everyone will always have a bottle they attach to because of a memory or destination. For me, it would be sharing bottles of wonderfully aged reds of older vintages with my family over a BBQ of nice cuts of meat and grilled vegetables on a private terrace with a view. Location wouldn’t really matter to me but more the company.

YW: Do you have any tips for anyone who wishes to pursue further education in wine?

YA: Find a reputable school and good teachers. You don’t have to stick to a single school to learn if you don’t find them to be very professional or good. As with anything, there are great teachers and the not-so-great teachers, so pick them wisely.. Learning the wrong things will take you twice as long to unlearn, which I’ve  had to do. Also, most importantly, you have to learn to let go of your personal bias and wine preferences if you want to further your education in wine meaningfully.

YW: Are there any key challenges to watch out for?

YA: I think this is something the wine world or any industry dealing with alcoholic drinks rarely address much, which is that alcohol is essentially not good for your health. There is no such thing as ‘healthy alcohol’ and people don’t address the risks of alcoholism and alcohol dependency. It’s a challenge since you can’t really learn about wine without tasting and drinking them on a regular basis to know, decipher and understand the different styles of wine.  As much as I love wine, it is addictive and moderation is easier said than done. So, finding ways to maintain your health and keeping healthy habits especially when dealing with wine, I find, is quite paramount and a constant challenge.

YW: You have lived and worked around the world! What are your favourite places you have stayed and why?

YA: Hard to pick. Personally, I really loved Seville for the beauty of the city, the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms whilst walking along the pavements and the wonderful food and wine. Another was Galicia, for the best seafood I’ve ever had and it was also where I discovered the versatility of Albarino variety. Last but not least, South Australia, specifically Barossa and McLaren Vale. Amazing wines but I also just loved the people in the industry there.

Guess you could say, my favourite places will always have history, good food and wine.

YW: What is the strangest thing you have ever learned about wine?

YA: That in the past, it was commonplace to use Ox Blood as a coagulant to clarify red wine. Obviously, it isn’t the case now.

YW: Favourite supermarket wine?

At the moment, Waitrose Rosé Champagne. I had it blind recently and it was surprisingly impressive despite having slight  residual sugar. Very balanced, typical champagne characteristics, easy drinking with a high price-performance ratio.

YW: What are your plans for the future?

YA: I’m definitely looking to find my footing in the wine industry, probably more in the trade side with my business development background and pursue Master of Wine. Perhaps I will be the second South Korean Master of Wine.

YW:  Most important lesson you have learned from your journey?

YA: I guess my lesson through it all is to trust myself more and to learn to enjoy the journey. In my experience, achieving something new always felt overwhelming and with it significant amount of stress especially for someone as goal-orientated and driven as me. But adopting a positive attitude and mindset through it all doesn’t cost anything extra and it does make the journey more worthwhile.