Fine food, wine and people in Japan
Just over a year ago I arrived in Tokyo to pour our wines at the huge Foodex show. I had no idea how the Japanese would react to our labels or style of winemaking. My old school friend Kozue and I were blown away with the positive reaction and delighted to come away from the show with serious interest from three importers.
After numerous emails in Japanese, where I would wait in anticipation for the translation from Kozue, the first 100 cases were on their way, by plane. Our newly acquired importer, Homboshoten was keen to get our wines into the market at record speed. Sales began in December and by February they placed the second order of 700 cases to arrive shortly after my visit this April when I would return for the Wine and Gourmet show.
Fine food and people
The first few whirlwind days in Tokyo, included a meeting at a restaurant, with clouds of steam hanging over each table, where I got to know a little more about Hombo-san and his colleagues through Kozue’s amazing interpreting. We were treated to a beautifully presented and flavoured selection of dishes based on cuisine from their home town Kagoshima, on the South island, a thousand or so kilometres from Tokyo.
Humidity was high making Japanese beer an essential accompaniment! Immaculate plates of thinly sliced pork were brought to the table which we swirled around briefly with our chopsticks in a pan of boiling water, adding it to the bowl of aromatic broth flavoured with a citrus spicy paste. This is Kurobuta shabu.
The dishes kept coming. One dish was so beautifully presented I actually thought the main ingredient, the tiny fish, which have to be flown in within 12 hours of being caught, were part of the platter! They were quite a challenge to pick up with chopsticks but I managed to dip them in the bowl of miso vinaigrette and enjoy the explosion of flavours. Tempura fish, deep fried crispy pork, bonito sashimi, all followed.
As the meal progressed, we drank Shochu, a spirit made from distilling sweet potatoes which is the core of Hombo-sans business. Their sister company produces Japanese wines. The charismatic winemaker, who spent 15 years winemaking in California, visited our stand at the show and told us stories of a full moon festival in the very north of Japan where they meet at a temple and hold glasses of rose up to the moon!
The sweet rice cake was slightly chewy and delicious. The grand finale, or so I thought, was the Ice bear – Shiro kuma – shaved ice cream decorated with fruit to make a bear’s face, a lesson in excellent marketing as they serve 1000 a day in the town where they were invented.
Just when I really thought we had come to the end of the meal, the waitress arrived with a plate of Soba noodles (buckwheat) for us to cook in the now beautifully pork flavoured water.
I was very pleasantly surprised to I discover that Homboshoten make a donation from their Shochu sales to the turtle conservation project in Japan, and realised that this was one of the factors which drew them to work with us. We talked about various projects which we might investigate supporting with donations from wine sales in Japan. Sadly the two species of Japanese wolf, the Honshu wolf and the Ezo wolf were both officially extinct by the early 1900s.
Another interesting talking point was that black pork and black beef are specialities of Kagoshima, which made me think of our black pack labels and the grapes sourced from the now certified organic vineyard in the Swartland or black land. ‘Swartland’ derives its names from the Rhinoceros bush, an indigenous bush which turns black in the hot, dry summers –
Fine wine and food
The reinvention of Rose as a dry rather than a sweet wine is taking longer to catch on in Japan than the rest of the world so I was keen to pour our Den rose Pinotage for as many people as I could to get their feedback. Those who tasted including the Director of the Sommeliers society were impressed and felt it was the perfect accompaniment to sashimi and other seafood. This was also supported by the seminar presented by Wines of South Africa (WOSA) and Anura, where they paired South African wines with Japanese foods. Our dry Pinotage rose worked really with the seared salmon sushi, Chenin Blanc with ginger and the Den Pinotage with soya sauce. Hombo-san took note of all the comments so it will be interesting to see whether any appears on the order for the next shipment to Japan!
The Wine and Gourmet show was held at the Tokyo big site, a very unusual piece of architecture, along with four other shows including the Dessert, Sweets, Bakery and drinks festival where the aisles were packed. Attendance was around 20,000 people per day, and there was a huge range of samples ranging from wasabi to ice cream.
We attended the ‘Night of Wines’ at the Nikkor hotel and enjoyed an awesome view from the balcony of the Rainbow bridge and Tokyo skyline. I also had a colourful view from my hotel room with the Ferris wheel lit up at night.
The hotel presented a buffet feast for breakfast ranging from western scrambled eggs to seaweed, miso soup, rice, pickled fish and numerous vegetables which I couldn’t begin to identify. It was the season for young bamboo shoots and spring onions which were eaten raw in large portions, and I really did feel energised after these.
After a very intense three days of the show, I enjoyed a morning of exploring the area around the show site and hotel. Much of the area is built on reclaimed land and there is a great feeling of space with the walkway wide enough to be a dual carriageway running through the centre of the area. This is the area where the Olympics will be held in 2020 and there is further construction on the go.
I caught the very last of the cherry blossom, and came across beds of tulips with some unusual characteristics outside the various shopping centres. It was interesting to see the mix of cultures evident everywhere. One can encounter a mother wearing her kimono walking with her daughter dressed in modern gear or come across groups walking around dressed up in their Cosplay (costume and play) outfits of their favourite anime or video game characters.
I was welcomed into the Science museum and spent quite some time lying on one of the curved couches looking up at the ever changing world above me – the Geo Cosmos is the world’s first large scale globelike display using organic LED panels.
The building is beautifully designed and the escalator goes up to the fifth floor where you get an awesome view of this glass palace all the way down to the ground floor. I was impressed to see groups of five year old children learning how to wire a circuit board and watched a group of adults testing out the latest technology for getting around from Honda.
All I need to be able to do now is harness some of this innovative technology to speed up the ship containing the 700 cases, so Homboshoten can fill the orders they have waiting for our wines and order some more. I am in awe of their way of working with us and feel hugely fortunate to have a found a company with people of this calibre to represent us in Japan.