The Japanese edition of the Native Grape Odyssey Maestro course—the last edition for 2019—took place in Tokyo at the Academie Du Vin Aoyama from December 2nd to 6th. Taught by wine educators Roddy Ropner and Irving So, the course was met with a large consensus among participants, 46 of which were proclaimed “European Quality Wine Heroes” after successfully completing a final exam. In addition, a Walk-Around Tasting featuring over 40 Italian and Spanish wineries and over 100 wines closed proceedings in Tokyo.
The Native Grape Odyssey (NGO) Maestro course in Tokyo which ended on December 6th, 2019, marked the last educational initiative of the Native Grapes Academy (NGA) project for the current year. The course took place over five days, similarly to the previous Canadian (15-19 September) and Russian (28 October – 1 November) editions. After four intense days of lectures and tastings on Italian and Spanish wines and grape varieties, participants took a final exam consisting of theory questions and the tasting of a red and a white wine. Upon successful completion of the course, 46 participants obtained the “European Quality Wine Hero” title, with the “hero” appellation symbolizing the role that these trained experts will have to fulfil to represent Italian and Spanish wines among consumers in Japan.
Participants were selected among all applicants for their knowledge of Italian and Spanish grapes and wines. The course served the purpose of providing additional, in-depth knowledge about these two viticultural traditions. Kaitani Ikuko, journalist and author of Italian wine and food publications, commented: “I feel like all the scattered knowledge I had gathered occasionally during my winery visits in Italy, one-day seminars, and through books has now finally come in an orderly manner.” Many participants also commented on the uniqueness of the NGO Maestro Course in the Japan market for its thorough analysis of all regions as well as treatment of wines and grape varieties that are little-known internationally.
The training provided by the NGO course as well as the inclusion of participants in an international community will allow to create official representatives of Italian and Spanish wine in Japan. Roddy Ropner, director of Wellspring Wines and teacher of the NGO Japan course, stated: “I think there is already a high level of knowledge on Italian and Spanish wines in Japan, but the market seems to be stable. Especially for the Italian wines, most of the sales seems to be concentrated on Italian restaurants. What we can try to do is creating more opportunities to sell to private customers and also more opportunities to sell to Japanese restaurants. That’s why we need ambassadors of the Italian and Spanish wine quality.” Regarding Spanish wines in particular, Ropner added: “I think that one of the troubles with Spanish wines is that there have been a lot of changes in the last 20 years, so the styles have changed quite a lot; you’ve gone from traditional styles to modern styles. So often it’s difficult to know what to expect from wine, and this can create confusion for the consumers. NGO Maestro participants have now acquired the knowledge to demystify it for the public.” Irving So, instructor at the Academie du Vin and co-teacher of the NGO Maestro Japan, also provided his insights into the perception of Italian and Spanish wines in the Japanese market and the importance of education: “In Japan, usually what is sold is the best-known wines, like Brunello or Nebbiolo. However, there are so many wines of high quality that are still not known in this country. We need experts that know the grapes well and can be ambassadors of Italian and Spanish wines.”
Another important learning moment of the NGO week was the Walk-Around Tasting, which took place on Friday December 6th. Whereas during the course students tasted one major example of a wine coming from a specific denomination, in the Walk-Around Tasting additional wines from the same denomination were made available, thus allowing students to fully understand the diversity of styles and wine-making techniques. Moreover, this event gathered more than 100 wine experts and trade professionals working in Tokyo and furnished them with the opportunity to network and meet local importers. Wines for the tasting were provided by leading food and beverage import companies in Japan along with wine trade associations.
The Tokyo event marked the end of the NGO initiatives for 2019, yet for 2020 the project will increase its activities scheduling wine seminars and Walk-Around Tastings in 5 different cities for each target country (Canada, Japan, and Russia) for a grand total of 15 high-level training and tasting events. In 2020, moreover, the NGO Web App piloted in 2019, will be further expanded. The App allows users to create and share tasting notes and stay in touch with the community of course participants. Additional information on NGO activities can be found on the official website nativegrapeodyssey.com and by following the project’s social media channels.
About: Native Grape Odyssey is a brand of the European Union project Native Grapes Academy (NGA). NGA is a project financed by the European Union and managed by Unione Italiana Vini and Interprofesional del Vino de España (OIVE) for the promotion of PDO and PGI European wines abroad, in particular in three countries: Japan, Canada and Russia. In order to achieve this, the Native Grape Odyssey educational program will organize wine seminars, workshops and b2b meetings both in these countries and in Verona, Italy, inviting wine experts and influencers from these countries. These events, realized in the span of three years (2019-21) aim at creating awareness about European native wines abroad, in particular Italian and Spanish wines, which share a long tradition and a high standard of quality.