Japan’s French Connection

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Exclusive Interview: Naoki Watanabe, Executive Officer – Suntory Wine International

Having studied oenology at the University of Bordeaux in the Institute of Vine and Wine Science, where he obtained a Diplôme national d’oenologue (National Oenology Diploma) in 1994, Naoki Watanabe researched reductive characters in wine under the supervision of Professor Denis Dubourdieu and had training at Chateau Lagrange and Chateau de Fieuzal. Back in Japan, Watanabe has been working with Tomi no Oka since the 1990’s, and since April 2018, presides R&D and general production of domestic wines as COO of the Wine Development and Production at Suntory. So, what is his most cherished memory from France?

My internship at Chateau Lagrange, and the collaboration with Lafite (DBR), as well as climate-specific viticulture and winemaking. That has influenced the current style of Tomi Red, which combines a sensation of concentration with distinctive local characteristics of sweetness and softness.

What creates the uniqueness of Japanese wine?
Japanese wines are not tannic. Rather, they complement food in a well-mannered way. Generally, they tend to be softer, tender wines, rather than strong, flamboyant ones.

What makes Tomi no Oka Winery different?
These are wines made by the winery that pioneered the making of authentic Japanese wines. The style of Tomi Red is with a sensation of concentration that is also naturally sweet, tender, and soft. With Japanese Koshu grapes we also produce dry wines that combine the fresh, lively quality of Koshu with a softness that results from the climate at Tomi no Oka.

Please tell me your dream.
To produce wines at Tomi no Oka that bring out the distinctive qualities of the local climate and land, and grapes even more so than today. And move the hearts of people around the world with our wines. To reach the point where people recognize wines from Tomi no Oka in Yamanashi, Japan when they taste one. And to see more Japanese wines are enjoyed by people in Asia and around the world.

Level 1 / Stand J-65


Photo: Naoki Watanabe, Executive Officer, Suntory Wine International