The Essence of Wine
The Essence of Wine | Foto: The Essence of Wine

The Essence of Wine

Por: Diego Cerón

12, September, 2022 en Business Concept

Geraldine Zialcita


Wine serves a fundamental role in Cecil Park and Jeanne Kim’s life, who share a strong vision of enabling people to communicate their stories and celebrate their milestones. Working behind the scenes, the business partners define wine’s true ingredients, demonstrate its benefits, and deliver a lifestyle to be valued and loved by all.
Winemaker, Viticulturist, Negociant, and Founder of Winefornia, Cecil grew up in Korea and is the third generation of the Korean War. While growing up in a modest home, Cecil recognized back then the lack of opportunity for women to engage in a professional career. “Knowing education would forge the path to acquire job security for women, I dreamed of becoming an engineer hoping this job profession would offer a little more flexibility in the field,” Cecil shares.
Cecil acquired a Bachelor of Science degree in Biotechnology Engineering at Yonsei University. In 2001, Cecil immigrated to America and worked in the marketing and sales department at a Los Angeles hotel. During her stint at the hotel, Cecil’s role exposed her to wine which sparked a fondness for the fermented liquor. Cecil entertained the idea of winemaking, which integrated well with her passion for science, innovation, and creativity.
“I moved to the U.S. hoping to apply for an MBA school. At 27 years old, I had never tasted wine until I worked at the hotel. Back in Korea, wine was known to be a cocktail drink mixed with grape juice and Korean Soju (distilled hard liquor). Wine culture was not something I was familiar with until then. I was surprised to learn about the wine varieties from different countries and the depth of the culture. Understanding how wine is a fermented food that creates numerous health benefits and unlimited diversities fascinated me. As a Korean, I am familiar with fermented food, yet, this compelled me to grasp more about behind-the-scenes’ production while I was savoring this beautiful drink,” Cecil expresses.
Regardless of being a female minority winemaker, that didn’t stop Cecil from fulfilling her dream. In 2014, Cecil obtained a Bachelor of Science degree with high honors in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. Equipped with a strong background in food and engineering, Cecil worked as a lab technician at the Napa Wine Company. To hone her craft, Cecil pursued courses developed by the Internal Organization of Vine and Wine of France and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis). Making headway, in 2007, Cecil spearheaded Winefornia, marking history as the first Korean American female winemaker in Napa, California.
“I started my winemaking career as a winery lab technician intern at Napa Wine Company in Oakville. Napa has an interesting setting where winemakers gather and create their wine-like co-op place. I learned the steps and various styles of winemaking from prominent winemakers, including Heidi Barrett, Aaron Pott, Rob Lawson, Sara Gott, and many more. Known to be the big stars in Napa instilled admiration and the goal of becoming like them. I believe I am almost on par with them. As a viticulturist, I understand vines, produce wine with philosophies and discipline, and design a winery for those who want to fulfill their dreams of wine,” Cecil conveys.

The Essence of Wine
The Essence of Wine

Cecil draws inspiration from people who make a positive difference, and impact with their passion and good heart through science, music, art, entertainment, workflow, socials, farming, etc. “They are all geniuses and that inspires me to do a better job with passion and live a better life with a good heart.” She smiles.
Winefornia involves a community of winemakers unleashing their artistic expression using groundbreaking methodologies for wineries and winemaking. The company consists of winery designers, winemakers, and advisors to support you in all aspects comprising your vision, concept, style, permits, production, and finances. This also includes assistance in developing a signature wine brand. Winefornia goes the extra mile to meet the needs of its clients, ranging from winemaking and procurement services; to brand, concept, and design; and marketing throughout the U.S. and Asia. Their boutique-style approach customizes services based on the client’s preference.
“I launched Winefornia with the concept that wine would enable each individual or corporation to share their stories about celebrations. ‘Your Own Wine from California’ was our tagline. We provided private winemaking service for PGA, LPGA tournaments, corporate mergers, and anniversaries including weddings, births, and special celebrations. Afterward, Winefornia extended services from custom winemaking to broader consulting areas including vineyard management and winery design for small-to-medium estate properties. We realized we could provide a complete full service from vineyard to finished bottle that is specifically designed for our clients, who are seeking to tell their own story through the wine. ‘Wine Redefined’ is our new slogan,” Cecil outlines.
Passion, dedication, and commitment rendered 15 years of winemaking experience for Cecil. To date, Cecil is an award-winning winemaker, viticulturist, and wine negociant who oversees more than 80 vineyards throughout Napa/Sonoma specializing in estate winery design, while trotting around the globe to educate people about winemaking. “Wine is my second parent which gave me another life filled with learning or relearning. My first encounter with wine exposed a whole new world for an immigrant with a distant culture from Asia. I needed to master how to speak the language and relearn the culture. I felt like a toddler in the industry who just started walking and talking. It was a humbling yet adaptable experience. Aside from winemaking, I also obtained knowledge about farming, economy, philosophy, art, and culture,” Cecil informs.
Cecil has produced volumes of wines, namely, Summer Breeze, LA18, Bongchu, The Vow, Highway 29, Charis Reserve, Casto, Fargo One, JD Estate, Of Ours, Mixed Roots, and Fermentation Lab. Her noteworthy private wine includes wine for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and Professional Golf Association (PGA). Cecil has also developed a special exclusive wine for LPGA and PGA through a refined blending procedure from wines in French oak barrels in honor of their golf events in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
In 2014, Cecil inaugurated her private signature label, INNOVATUS which stands for innovation in Latin, and has been globally acclaimed and exported to China (Wine Hub), Korea (Shindong), and Japan (WineGura). “Since I was born and raised in Korea, I naturally developed a wide range of taste palettes including a lot of fermented food. This enabled me to create a one-of-a-kind, unique red blend wine, INNOVATUS Cuvee Red, and also the wine style that came from my own interpretation of the vineyards and taste spectrums. As a consultant, I respect traditional practices. However, at the same time, I am open-minded, flexible, and much more enjoy finding authenticity,” Cecil denotes.

The Essence of Wine
The Essence of Wine

In 2020, Cecil met Jeannie at a Korean American community event. Sharing the same visions and goals formed a friendship and business partnership at Winefornia. While Cecil concentrates on producing the wines, Jeannie serves as the CEO of the company. As the CEO of Winefornia, Jeannie’s role covers helping increase Winefornia’s international sales and augmenting the membership program while Cecil focuses on winemaking. “As the founder of Winefornia, I oversee everything but more specifically responsible for every detail in winemaking. As a viticulturist, I manage 80 different vineyard sites in the Napa and Sonoma area and am specialized in organic and sustainable farming,” Cecil notifies.
“Cecil is the artistic and creative Viticulturist. Since winemaking equates to art, Cecil manages the production side which encloses label making and design. I operate the business side of Winefornia and deal with sales, promotions, memberships, and finances. We discuss our vision and direction and I implement strategies for achieving our goals,” Jeannie informs.
Jeannie’s childhood dream was to be involved in service for the people, families, and children. Little did she know, her life would unfold as planned. At 12 years old, Jeannie and her family migrated to California from Seoul, South Korea to start a new life. With no culinary experience, Jeannie’s parents opened a restaurant in San Francisco where Jeannie got to taste first-hand the life of an entrepreneur. While her peers spent time playing sports, engaging in Martial Arts, or learning an instrument, Jeannie worked at her family restaurant and shared a passion and love for food.
Jeannie acquired her Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies and Sacred Music at a local Bible college. She then obtained her Master of Divinity degree at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, part of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Shortly after, Jeannie became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA denomination). In 2020, Jeannie earned the Distinguished Alumni Award from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Jeannie serves on several boards for universities and organizations to further support her community.
Jeannie’s childhood dream panned out and her true calling involves helping her community. As a Youth Pastor who manages her restaurant like a church with love, kindness, and empathy, her feeding program connects one another, one meal at a time. In 2006, Jeannie renamed her restaurant SAMS American Eatery after the initials of her three children, Samuel, Abigail, and Micah. In 2018, Mayor Mark E. Farrell proclaimed the day “SAM’s Diner Day” in honor of the late mayor, making Kim the first Korean American restaurateur in San Francisco to have a day proclaimed after their restaurant.
Forging ahead, in 2017, Kim launched Fermentation Lab, a gastropub in Mid-Market that sells craft beers. In addition to this, Jeannie established her catering company, Divine Indulgence, to create a fostering environment for communities. Divine Indulgence provides personalized catering services for all occasions.
Jeannie draws her inspiration from a sense of calling, faith, and journey. “I believe I am an instrument to take care of people and create a positive space where people can find healing and restoration in any context. The restaurant, catering services, and Winefornia allow me to reach out and connect to a lot of people,” Jeannie shares.
After being in the hospitality business for 16 years, Jeannie acknowledges wine being an essential element harmonized with food. “Food is something I enjoy preparing and people are always searching for good wine to pair with their dishes. Living in Napa has propelled me to learn about winemaking and combining food and wine. Napa Valley offers a retreat lifestyle that is subtle and entails solitude. Winefornia is a medium where people can gather together and enjoy the wine. Cecil artistically crafts the wine with no chemicals, no manipulations, all made with TLC,” Jeannie relays.
Since Winefornia believes each wine has a story to tell, the partners define what it means to them. “Wine is a creation of science and art. Each step of wine production involves a major or minor decision that leads to a specific direction. This is the base of the wine storyline, yet the story doesn’t end here. Wine is much bigger than a manufactured product, it keeps evolving with its surroundings. Wine influences nature for farming and people who in return, share it with their own stories. Like a person, wine constantly experiences the process of growth and eventually shares and exchanges its story with us,” Cecil defines.

The Essence of Wine
The Essence of Wine

“The stories embrace many components which attribute to conceptualizing your own wine brand. Since we customize wine for our clients, the initial question we ask them is why they want to create wine and what it means to them. We’ve heard countless stories of how wine is symbolic in celebrating special occasions―birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, business promotions, graduations, etc. Wine gathers people together and represents every celebration with gratitude,” Jeannie describes.
As the first Korean American female-owned winery and wine consultant company, Cecil and Jeannie aim to inspire other Asian Americans to create wine and share their stories. I am proud, honored, and grateful for this wonderful opportunity. It has been a long journey for me to learn and relearn the production and culture. However, I am delighted to contribute a touch of different perspectives and approaches to the wine industry.” Cecil smiles.
“It’s a tremendous honor and responsibility to be a role model and mentor for the rest of the people. We do everything with integrity and quality because success is not just about making money. We want to enjoy life and provide more leadership and mentorship. Since the winemaking industry is predominantly white men, we strive to be the frontrunner in winemaking. Cecil has built her reputation and established her credentials. She feels very connected with the vine and constantly communicates to the grapes,” Jeannie conveys.
Wine denotes an intricate process synonymous with carrying a child for nine months and giving birth to a baby. Every step includes nurturing the grapes before transformation―a metamorphosis. When Jeannie and Cecil first meet a client, they provide an initial consultation to discuss and envision their concept before taking the necessary steps to complete the project. “We listen to their stories as to why they wish to make wine and ask what their favorite wine is. We explain the delicate process of winemaking which encompasses harvesting the grapes. While white wine takes one year to harvest, Cabernet Sauvignon takes two years. We discuss the quantity, label, designs, and message they wish to deliver through their brand. We share their concept with our designers so they can construct a design suitable for them. Our clients are welcome to taste the wine once it has been fermented. After the wine is ready, they choose a bottle, and our team prints the labels. We provide reports about the process. Custom crushing 2 barrels and 1 ton of break produces 600 wines which are equivalent to 50 cases,” Jeannie explains.
Winefornia’s unique approach embodies multiple services from personalized custom winemaking, designing small to medium wineries and vineyards, and converting garages into a wine facility. “We take care of everything from beginning to end. We have a vineyard management company that can take care of and nurture the estates and vineyards of our clients. We have a graphic designer that designs labels and a facility that crushes wine. We are a one-stop-shop,” Jeannie narrates.
Cecil portrays love and loyalty to her wine. “They are all my babies which consist of fun memories and emotional attachments. I enjoyed raising them and enjoy watching them interact with our customers, family, and friends,” Cecil briefs. Jeannie prefers red wine vs. white wine, but once she tasted Cecils’ Viognier which is only 2 % created in Napa, this became her favorite choice. “Viognier is very delicate and people shy away from it. It has a subtle texture that enables you to still taste your food. This wine tastes good during warm weather and goes well with Asian food. Cecil was the first winemaker to blend Syrah and Pinot Noir which bagged her the Cuvee awards and featured her in Forbes magazine. Napa wines are known to be very thick, bold, and heavy, yet we can proudly say that ours has the depth of the Cabernet Sauvignon, drier, smooth, and extremely elegant.” Jeannie smiles.
Aside from healing and restoration, Jeannie and Cecil believe there are so many benefits to wine. “Wine is not just a commodity, but has a great impact on the economy and the culture. With a healthy foundation around it, we can build a healthy community, nurturing not only us but all its surroundings including nature, business, and society,” Cecil affirms.
“In a nutshell, wine is about perfection, excellence, and relationship building. Good food needs good wine―they support and complement each other. Making wine allows us to connect with a lot of people from all walks of life―wine brings the community together. We teach people who want to learn the beauty and hard work of the winemaking process. We do our best, yet allow the magic to unfold on its own. Winemaking entails learning to trust the fermentation process. It’s a very humbling procedure. Even if it’s hot in the vineyards, you see lush grapes and vines. Winemaking requires hard work, patience, and transformation, with a payoff in the end. Wine enables us to connect globally to people who are curious about farming, artistry, and science. Wine also links us to Mother Earth and the divine, allowing us to be the instruments what they create which is to be enjoyed across the world,” Jeannie expresses.

The business partners appreciate their roles and are always learning something new. After all the years of being in the industry, they are grateful to have met people from all over the world to visit Napa. “To me, wine is the most beloved and romantic creation in the world. I am so grateful that I am creating such a beautiful character and adding colors to the world. Patience and perseverance are two things I have learned in my journey. It takes at least 6 years from planting vines to a finished bottle of wine. It is such a long process and you constantly have to make decisions along with the entire procedure. I often got frustrated and panicked, but nature and fermented food are quite giving and I’ve learned to trust the process. With adequate direction, everything unfolds the way it’s supposed to be,” Cecil confirms.
“We still have a lot to learn and it’s a very humbling journey. Just when you figure something out, you discover another new thing. It’s the combination of nature and science, and there is so much research that is being done like with the current weather, if it’s dry, if there is a fire. We have learned to be preventative instead of reactive. Each day is a learning experience enjoying people’s artistry and artwork. We want to learn more and share what we have learned with other people. Drinking wine allows it to become a part of you which is indeed a sacred experience,” Jeannie outlines.

The Essence of Wine
The Essence of Wine

Some of the memorable accolades they cherish are producing wine for Fiona Ma, the California State Treasurer who used the wine to thank the people who have supported her after all these years. They are also honored to have crafted wine for Dr. Soyeon Yi, the first Korean astronaut who used the wine to inspire young girls to reach for the stars. Winefornia’s private labels have been exported to Korea and Japan, and are sold in department stores.
Despite good fortune, Winefornia has also experienced some setbacks. Some of the challenges they have faced are the erratic weather, water shortage, and fires. There is no guarantee as to what the crops can generate and you can’t predict the outcome. “Sometimes yield can be low and other occasions, abundant. You have what Mother Nature gives you and need to pick the grapes at the right time. We also have no control over natural disasters. Labor is becoming more expensive due to inflation, gas price, and higher wages. Glass bottles charge more than usual which means we’ve also had to raise prices for clients. Since our wines are made in Napa which makes the location in the top 4% of the world due to its ideal weather, the grapes are highly-priced. During the pandemic, we lost a lot of tourists and visitors in Napa,” Jeannie discloses.
“On one occasion Cecil informed us that Viognier needed to be harvested a week before the schedule. We changed our plans and requested the crew to come early. We were very fortunate about our decision because three days later, a fire broke loose and ruined the majority of the grapes at the neighboring vineyards. Had we waited longer, we would have lost all our crops. Mother Nature was looking out for us,” Jeannie reveals.
Winefornia has a couple of facilities that produce wine. They source grapes from vineyards that they are in contract with. Cecil manages 80 vineyards and demonstrates expertise in sourcing superior quality grapes in Napa. They also work with non-profit organizations through winemaking. They are avid supporters of The Mixed Roots Foundation which advocates adoptions and foster care. Winefornia also patronizes Korean American communities and hopes to assist more organizations with their pledges.
While Cecil and Jeannie share a deep passion for wine and have celebrated their accolades and victories, both of them relate to a difficult journey that brought them closer to each other. Three years ago, Cecil was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. “I consider them frustrations rather than challenges because everything was uncertain with a potentially fatal diagnosis. I was agitated with too many hospital visits, three rounds of surgeries, treatments, and my thoughts all over the place. I drastically changed my diet, work hours, and reading subjects. I also developed some rituals for physical and mental health by listening carefully to what my body is telling me and how my mind flows. With the unconditional support from family and friends, I am doing well now, happier than ever, and have a clearer vision for my life. I am grateful and excited for the many opportunities and wish to share my journey with wine and other people,” Cecil reveals.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery in December of 2016. It was a busy time for me at work but I realized I had to take the time to practice better self-care and live a holistic lifestyle with gratitude. My two daughters who are studying medicine took very good care of me and taught me about the importance of what to eat and drink. My approach to food became more intentional and I found ways to create food and drinks that would heal my body. Despite my hectic lifestyle, I became conscious about my intake embracing my mission toward health and wellness. This is when Cecil and I connected deeply through our journey and mission as business partners who produce good wine with integrity,” Jeannie unveils.
Plowing on, Cecil and Jeannie hope to acquire their own estate with a vineyard and winery in one central hub selling premium wines and teaching winemaking. “My ultimate goal is to create a wine that can connect with people and draw their attention to nature so that together we can all heal. I believe the complexity of my wines derives from the diversity I carried with me as an immigrant to Napa. My broad palette and keen understanding of Asian farming provide a wide perspective on farming and winemaking here in Napa. Soon, I hope to introduce Korean traditional farming practices for more healthy soil development and would like to try incorporating ‘Korean identity’ into our wines,” Cecil concludes. “We are committed to making quality wine that tells a story of resilience, hope, and reconciliation that everyone enjoys and will appreciate,” Jeannie concludes.
It has been a long and meaningful journey for the Korean immigrants who planted seeds filled with purpose, direction, and significance. They kept a steady vision integrating wine in every moment of their lives so they can connect, inspire, and make a difference in so many people’s lives. Cecil Park and Jeannie Kim ferment wine with integrity, love, and joy to capture the true essence and share the many blessings it has to offer.