Restaurateur named one of nation’s best new sommeliers

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Justin King, partner and general manager of Dewitt restaurant Bridge Street Social has been named one of six “Best New Sommeliers” in the country by Wine & Spirits magazine.

The Michigan wine expert, along with three picks from New York City, one from Napa and another from Austin, will be featured in the October issue of the magazine which hits newsstands Sept. 12.

Last year Rachel Van Til of Mabel Gray (who has since left to work in Dallas) was also listed as one of the best new sommeliers. To King, this means that wine authorities nationally are starting to look at Michigan wines with more serious consideration.

“I think that’s incredible, for Michigan wine to be taken seriously finally,” he said, immediately giving credit to two of the state’s notable wine masters. “Madeline Triffon, Mick Descamps, who have done so much for the Michigan wine industry and Michigan hospitality, those two deserve the biggest round of applause because they’ve paved the way for people like Rachel Van Til and me.

“I believe strongly that in 15-20 years the Michigan wine and hospitality industry will have a great shot at being able to compete with the coasts,” he said. “I’m sick of people leaving Michigan for better opportunities. I don’t blame them, but I want Michigan to be the place to come to.”

King, 37, is a partner of Bottleneck Hospitality, along with chef Michael Luther. They opened Bridge Street Social in Dewitt just outside of Lansing. It’s a casual fine dining restaurant that offers a massive 150 wines by the glass, thanks to the Coravin system of preserving wines. King says with this system he’s able to offer customers a taste of a medium-priced or high-end bottle of wine for the price of a glass pour.

“We’re in Lansing and not everyone is looking to spend $200 a night,” he said “Let’s dig deep on those $12-$14 glasses and give people an experience across the board that way. People love it.”

King is a certified sommelier, which is the second of four levels of the sommelier program. He’s part of a group of local soms who study together for these intricate taste and knowledge tests. In November he, Van Til and Kat Hawkins from Wright & Co. will try for their Advanced Sommelier test in St. Louis.

King, Hawkins and another member of their study group, Gerry Baker of Wolfgang Puck at MGM Grand Detroit, will team up with Descamps for “Sunday Supper Club,” a five-course dinner with wine pairings. The event is Sept. 24 at Wright & Co. Reserve in advance at

“We put a lot of positive peer pressure on ourselves,” he said. “There really is a strong surge of wonderful people who are looking out for Michigan’s wine industry as a whole and it’s great to be a part of.”

Twitter: @melodybaetens