Peter Yi, by his own admission, didn't know anything about European wine 15 years ago, and when he thought of wine, he thought "California." That could be said for lots of consumers even today, with the major import growth currently coming from Australia.
But Yi was in sort of a unique position; he was about to go from being an accounting student and part-time wine seller in his father's wine store in the NYC borough of Queens to a full-time wine shop operator in a part of Manhattan where wine and spirit stores were as likely to sport Plexiglas booths as premier cru vintages.(Lucio Caputo, head of the European Wine Council, presents Peter Yi with the organization's annual European Wine Ambassador.)
Today, PJ Wine is one of the fastest growing wine stores in the city, with a dedication to building both in-store business with existing and new customers and an e-commerce site PJWine that today represents more than 50 percent of his wine sales with shipments across the country. And he's done it, much to the glee of the European Wine Council, which honored him last week as the 2006 European Wine Ambassador. Thirty-nine year-old Yi was a bit sheepish at the black tie dinner at the about-to-open Le Cirque honoring him, New York Times writer Frank Prial, restaurant designer Adam Tihany, and Cornell University professor of hotel administration Dr. Stephen Mutkoski, but his accomplishment is worth noting, as he joins such well-known wine sellers as Josh Wesson, Peter J. Morrell, Michael Aaron and Steve Wallace as retailers who make wines from the Old World as important as those from the New.