Next in Wine: Meet Five Sommeliers Keeping the Craft Alive Here in Honolulu

Plus, get the scoop on their favorite wine recommendations for summer.
Chris Ramelb
Photos: Tommy Shih


Fifteen years ago, Hawai‘i had one master sommelier—Chuck Furuya, whose home base is now Vino restaurant—and we got our sauvignon blancs at the no-frills wine warehouse Fujioka’s Wine Merchant. Prosecco was hard to find. Today, two more Island guys carry that master title (Patrick Okubo of Young’s Market and Roberto Viernes of The Kāhala), Fujioka’s is part of Times Supermarkets and you can grab three kinds of prosecco at Safeway. Wine has aged well in the Islands, and oenophiles get their vintage fixes at dozens of shops and wine bars. An increasing number of the growing cadre of sommeliers uses its expertise as “educators” with wine and spirit distribution companies. Is the sommelier craft—lovingly cleaning eggshell-thin glassware by hand, not falling for fads (yes, we’re talking about you, orange and blue wines), monitoring temperatures like incubating hens, and working the restaurant floor nightly to find wines that will turn diners’ experiences from good to god-this-is-freaking-amazing—becoming a lost art? Not if these five somms can help it. Each of them is certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, and each is pushing the art of wine appreciation in Hawai‘i to new levels.


SEE ALSO: So What, Exactly, Does a Master Sommelier Do?


Sean Isono

Sommelier, Halekūlani

Sean Isono

Provenance: Staged at restaurants in Fukuoka, Japan, where he learned from the sommeliers. “I am forever grateful to Chuck Furuya for his guidance, and the opportunity to work with Kevin Toyama at Halekūlani.”


Guiding philosophy: “It’s not about just finding a wine to match the food—finding the right wine to match the guest can add the ‘plus alpha’ to the dining experience.”


Isono wineWine pick: “For this summer and all summers, it’s rosé. Now I like Château Thivin Beaujolais Villages Rosé. For those who prefer red, Beaujolais, because it’s good, even right out of the fridge.”


Micah Suderman

General manager and certified sommelier, Azure, Royal Hawaiian hotel

Micah Suderman

Provenance: Mentors: The late Don Dymond, owner of Kalapawai Café and Deli, where Suderman worked, and Hawai‘i’s three master sommeliers—Chuck Furuya, Roberto Viernes and Patrick Okubo. Was account manager at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. After passing certified sommelier exam, held free classes to help other food and beverage professionals gain accreditation.


Guiding philosophy: “Service above all. Nobody cares what I know if I cannot keep their water glass full and do the basics of service.”


Suderman wineWine pick: “An old favorite is Domaine de Fontsainte rosé because it’s very refreshing and delivers for the dollar. A new favorite is La Caña Albariño from Spain—also a great find.”


Kevin Toyama

Wine manager and lead sommelier, Halekūlani

Kevin Toyama

Provenance: Started in wine business with first mentors Richard Field and Scott Shimamura of R. Field Wine Co. “Between the two of them I got an appreciation of wine and food and how they work together.” Counts Chuck Furuya as an influence. Worked at Pacific Club, Ihilani Resort, Manele Bay. 


Guiding philosophy: “We all start off with a different philosophy and, as we gain insight and experience, that changes. Right now my philosophy is to purchase wines of quality as opposed to wines that are marketed—I look for wine that has, as the French say, a je ne sais quoi. Another philosophy is never step into a door unless it is open halfway—engage only when the person wants to ask questions. At Halekūlani, we don’t have a sales quota to meet, so what’s more important than selling a lot of wine is finding that perfect fit.”


Toyama wineWine pick: “Right now I like a Godello by Viña Godeval in Spain, it’s crisp and minerally. I like easy drinking, and another interesting wine is Turley’s Bechthold Vineyard Cincault—almost looks like a rosé in a glass, but captures the lightness of this old vine grape with hints of jam, black fruits, earth, spice and peppers.”


Mark Shishido

Wine director, Alan Wong’s

Mark Shishido

Provenance: “As it relates to beverage, I am a graduate from the school of hard knocks. It’s a cliché; however, so true. I am very fortunate to have worked at places where training and development, mentoring, coaching, being a student of the game, and the pursuit of being the best you could be are part of their culture. My list of mentors goes deep, but if I had to point out one, it would be the late Leo Sato (Hawaiian Regent hotel beverage manager).”


Guiding philosophy: “To be of service. Of all the qualities that I feel sommeliers should excel in beyond their knowledge of food, wine and beverage, is to understand service, more specifically being of service—to your guest, the people you work with, community and family.”


Shishido wineWine pick: “A must-have for your list of summer wines is Domaine de Marquiliani Rosé from Corsica, 2015. Also, hot summers call for a long, cool, refreshing, light-hearted, fruit-driven, wine-themed beverage—it’s a perfect time for sangrias.”


Chris Ramelb

Wine director, Senia

Chris Ramelb

Provenance: While in sales at Southern Wine and Spirits, Ramelb worked part time at Vino and at Alan Wong’s. “Without Chuck Furuya, I wouldn’t be in the industry that I love so much today. Nobody’s approval means more to me than his. Mark Shishido is easily one of the best in the world, and is such a willing and patient teacher. I made my biggest strides as a sommelier at Alan Wong’s.”


Guiding philosophy: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. I dedicate a large portion of my life to the study of the craft, but all the knowledge in the world is useless if I am not approachable. The guests’ happiness takes precedence over everything else, and it is my job to make that immediately evident.”

  Ramelb wine

Wine pick: “Thivin Beaujolais Villages Rosé—it’s made from the light and fruity Gamay grape by a quality-minded producer. Seriously delicious.”


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