[HAWAII AT WORK]
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Randy Ching has been working with wines for most of his adult life. Currently, he is wine manager and a sommelier at the Halekulani Hotel, which features in its extensive wine inventory a bottle of Romanee-Conti, vintage 1978, available for $18,000. CLICK FOR LARGE
Taking it to a different level
Randy Ching's joy is successfully selecting the perfect wine for guests at the Halekulani
Who: Randy Ching|
Title: Wine manager
Job: Manages the main wine cellar at the Halekulani hotel and is sommelier for its La Mer restaurant.
RANDY Ching loves wine so much that he has made a career out of serving it to others, currently as wine manager and a sommelier at the Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki. His appreciation for wine began when he was a teenager; it solidified in the early 1970s when he was hired to work as a sommelier at a country club in Napa, Calif. -- at a time, he said, when the area was "just getting started" as America's premier wine-producing region. Now age 50, Ching has been with the Halekulani since 1988. Before that he was sommelier for the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on the Big Island. He is a graduate of Kailua High School, and also took some college classes at Kapiolani and Leeward community colleges before heading off to California. A resident of Waikiki, Ching is single, but has two adult children, a son and a daughter, who live on the mainland.
Question: What is your title? Wine cellar manager and sommelier?
Answer: My hotel business card says wine manager.
Q: You're wine manger for the hotel?
Q: Not just La Mer restaurant?
A: No, for the hotel. What recently happened, because of all this development going on all around us, we're doing more special events with wine, so we brought in Kevin Toyama. Before it was just me, and I was doing everything, but now with these events going on, we needed to bring in another person, and that's where Kevin comes into the picture, and his title is Halekulani sommelier. So after all the years of me being independent, we now have a wine department.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Randy Ching is wine manager for the Halekulani Hotel and also the sommelier at the hotel's La Mer restaurant, above. Ching started his career in the field at the Silverado Country Club in Napa, Calif., when the area was just taking off as America's foremost wine-producing region. CLICK FOR LARGE
Q: Do you supervise him or what?
A: Well, we work together closely. Basically, in a way, yes, I'm in a salary position and he's in an hourly position, but I don't want to say I'm his boss. We basically both have strong backgrounds in wine and we make a good team.
Q: What does a sommelier do?
A: He will relieve me on my two days off, and two days a week he works at Orchids restaurant in the hotel, and then on the fifth day we work on the events.
Q: So what are your main roles?
A: Controlling the main wine cellar -- all the ordering, receiving, stocking, issuing.
Q: Does the hotel really have a wine cellar?
Q: It's really a cellar?
Q: It's underground?
A: Oh. No, It's not underground. It's up here on the second floor, next to La Mer. (Laughter). I'm sorry.
Q: Is the room temperature controlled?
A: It's 55 degrees in the main wine cellar, and then in the display room, that is 65 degrees, and that is where we serve all the red wine from. Fifty-five is good for storage, and 65 is good for service.
Q: About how many bottles of wine are we talking about?
A: Oh, about 500 roughly, on the list. Then, when you look at all the wines by the glass, ... I'll have to call you back on that.
Q: Why does the restaurant have so many wines?
A: It's structured toward our clientele, meaning that the wine list is the selections that are made to accommodate our type of clientele, which is fairly high-end, fairly articulate. They have rather experienced palates, so we have to keep up with the market for high-end wines, the rare wines, the wines that are very allocated. We have to carry some trophy wines, that are very collectible. That's the type of clientele we have.
And then we have to cater to the more casual palate, who like wine from the bigger producers.
Q: Give me a couple brand names for the bigger producers.
A: People like Grgich Hills Cellar, Cakebread Cellars.
Q: How about some of the smaller producers?
A: L'Angevin, Littorai, and Brewer-Clifton.
Q: What's the range in prices of the various wines you serve?
A: They can range anywhere from in the thirties and forties (dollars) up until $18,000.
Q: Why would a particular wine cost so much?
A: Demand, and the production is very low, very minimal.
Q: Where would that (an $18,000 bottle of wine) have come from?
A: That would come from Burgundy, France; the area is called Romanee-Conti.
Q: What kind of wine is that?
A: It's a red burgundy.
Q: So it's like a thousand bucks a gulp?
A: (Laughter) Something like that. It's from 1978, so its a classic vintage of a vintage wine.
Q: What kind of people buy the really expensive wines?
A: The other bottle, we sold it to a person from the Asian market.
Q: How did you learn so much about wine?
A: It started as a hobby when I was really young.
Q: How young?
A: I started when I was in my late teens. I think I was 19. That was almost 30 years ago.
Q: Are you a certified sommelier?
A: I'm not certified in the guild. I went through the first phase, but I'm not certified like Chuck Furuya, who's a master, and Roberto Viernes, who's also a master.
Q: Where do they work?
A: Chuck works at Vino, at Restaurant Row, and Roberto works for Southern Wine & Spirits, in its education department.
Q: How important is it to be certified?
A: It gives you a lot of credentials. It's quite an achievement.
Q: What was your first wine job?
A: My first wine job was at Silverado Country Club in Napa Valley in the late '70s.
Q: How did you get that?
A: I was a young man stomping around California with a buddy, and we ended up in Tahoe. I had met a lady in Tahoe, and we were visiting her family in Napa, and just on a whim, I went and applied for a job there (at the Silverado Country Club), and I got hired. And since I showed a lot of interest in wine, they hired me in the main dining room. I was first a captain, and then they made me assistant manager/ sommelier.
Q: When did you make it back to Hawaii?
A: In 1980.
Q: What brought you back?
A: Home. I missed the ocean.
Q: What kind of schedule do you have at work?
A: I come in anywhere between 2 and 3 p.m., and I work till 11-12. I'm off Sundays and Mondays.
Q: Do you have a wine that you recommend most often?
A: It all depends on the person, the individual.
It depends a lot on what you're eating, on what you want to pair with the meal. So I've learned to put my own personal tastes aside and focus more on what the guests want, what they like, what they prefer. I can be very specific, what I think would go great with the dish, but in my field, I think it's more important that I accommodate our clients.
Q: What's your own favorite wine? Do you have one?
A: I enjoy pinot noir
Q: So that would be like the movie "Sideways?"
A: (Laughter) Yes, but I was into pinot noir years before that.
Q: What about beer? Do you have any favorite beers?
A: When I was up in Oregon, I tried a beer called Moose Drool.
Q: And it was good?
A: Oh, it was fantastic. I also like Grolsch, Etoile d'Or ...
Q: What do you think of the locally produced pineapple wine?
A: You know what? It wasn't that bad. I just tried it again yesterday -- I tried it years ago, too -- and it surprised me. It had true pineapple flavors. It wasn't bitter or alcoholic. It was really rather pleasant, and it made me start thinking of certain foods that would go well with it.
As a sommelier, you have to be broad minded. You have to be open to trying new things, because you have to serve what other people like.
Q: What's your favorite part of your job?
A: I love working the floor. And I really like it when, even if it's with staff, friends or customers, when I pair wine with a dish, and you watch them eat and their eyes light up, because you can have a favorite wine and a favorite dish, but when you pair them together, you take it to a different level.
So that's my reward in what I do.