Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Drops of God: Volume 1

Every wine maker knows that if one of your wines gets a great review in a handful of widely-acclaimed publications (think opposite of West Toast), chances are you're in for a big wave of sales. What helps even more is if said review was written by an especially stingy connoisseur who rarely gives out high remarks. But what if I told you that even those publications can't hold a candle to the power of a comic book? It's true.

In Japan, manga (comic books) aren't just for kids. There are versions published for all ages and it isn't remotely odd to see adults reading manga on the subway after a hard day at work. Kami no Shizuku (The Drops of God) is one such manga for adults that has rocked the wine world and the entire Asian market for the last eight years.

Shizuku Kanzaki is the son of a recently deceased, world renowned wine critic named Yutaka Kanzaki. In order to take ownership of his father's legacy, an extensive wine collection featuring some of the most rare labels of the last 30 years, he must find 13 wines, known as the "Twelve Apostles" and the heaven sent "Drops of God" that his father described in his will. But despite being an only child, Shizuku is not alone in this unique wine hunt. He has a competitor. Issei Tomine, a renowned young wine critic, was recently adopted into the Kanzaki family and is also vying for this most rare of prizes.

Beyond the official description, one also learns that Shizuku works as a rep for a beer company and has never tasted wine in his life. The twist is that his father had been teaching him how to be a wine critic his entire life. A lifetime spent sniffing random vials, tasting pieces of bark, and visiting specific gardens in bloom has made him somewhat of an idiot savant. All of this is necessary for him to uncover the 13 wines needed to inherit his father's estate.

Sound a little dramatic? It is, but that's how the reader gets sucked into one of the most well-written and condensed Wine 101 lessons you'll ever find. After finishing only the first volume, readers are given lessons in:
  • The origins of wine
  • Vintages
  • Decanting and what it means to "open" a wine
  • Fermenting wine in steel vs. wooden casks
  • Typical restaurant mark up
  • Terroir
  • How grapes grow
  • Dessert wine
  • Why cheap wines can be better than more expensive wines
The end of Volume 1 alludes to Volume 2 covering food pairings.  As an example of how they sneak in lessons, take a look at this pane.  In Japan, manga is read right to left:

There's even a thrilling feud between a co-worker who only drinks Italian wine and why their company shouldn't sell that French swill! 

So why is this important to the wine industry?  Beyond attracting a younger audience, here is a small sample from the impact section on Wikipedia:

The Japanese importer Enoteca has stated that the comic character has begun to influence its stock ordering decisions. The sale of fine wines in South Korea has increased significantly as a result of the popularity of the comic, with the sale of wine rising from less than a third of the market to around 70 per cent of alcohol sales.

After an issue with a mention of lesser known producer Château Mont-Pérat came out, a Taiwanese importer sold 50 cases of Mont-Pérat in two days. Sales of Umberto Cosmo's Colli di Conegliano Rosso also leaped 30% after being mentioned in the Manga series. All Nippon Airways reported it had to recraft the in-flight wine lists to accommodate the increased interest.

After being featured in the finale of the Japanese television adaptation series of Kami no Shizuku in March 2010, the little known Bordeaux wine 2003 Château le Puy became significantly popular in Japan. In September 2010, the proprietor of Château le Puy, Jean-Pierre Amoreau, made public his intention to cease international sales of their 2003 vintage in order to deter wealthy speculators and retain a small stock for those buyers he deems to be genuine connoisseurs.
And how does this help the region West Toast knows and loves the most?  After reading only one volume, not much.  The vast majority of what The Drops of God covers is French wine.  You have to start somewhere though, so I understand why the authors would choose that.  That said, the one American wine they do mention is Opus One.

The Drops of God has already hit the New York Times Best Seller list since hitting American shores last September, so it is only a matter of time before the domestic industry sees its impact.  While it isn't for everybody, it is certainly entertaining.  You might even learn something!


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