I LIVE IN JAPAN / Nicholas Gardiner / Senior Wine Ambassador

January 2024 (VOL.195)

Nicholas Gardiner

  • Home country/state/city: England, North Yorkshire
  • Occupation: Senior Wine Ambassador, Pernod-Ricard. WSET Instructor at Caplan Wine Academy
  • Duration of living in Japan:22 years!
  • Why do you live in Japan?: My life is here! Plus great food and drinks!

What do you do in Japan? Can you talk about your job in Japan?

I first came to Japan to do Karate! I was lucky to have a Japanese instructor at my university and he recommended that I train in Japan. I trained with 2 of the most famous masters and have a 3rd-degree black belt. I studied Japanese very hard and got a very good job working for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry promoting Japanese crafts and culture overseas as well as helping with press releases and media communications. I studied wine with the Japan Sommelier Association and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and changed my career to working with wine. I now teach WSET courses at a famous wine school in Tokyo and am a Senior Wine Ambassador for Pernod-Ricard. I do training for staff, educate consumers and sommeliers, do wine-tasting events, and promote wine in general. My dream is to become a Master of Wine (Japan only has 1 MW at the moment).

Do you like sake?

I know sake very well! I have WSET level 3 advanced sake qualification and have tasted extensively in my 22 years and visited many sake breweries. I have also done promotional videos for sake breweries that you can find on YouTube. Our company has a sake product aged in whisky barrels (LINK8888), and I help with the blending of that every year in Toyama prefecture. Sake is an amazing drink for food pairing as it rarely fights with anything. It is an awesome pairing with cheese. It is also incredibly underpriced in Japan, so drink it while it is cheap! It can be a little hard to understand, and there is a lot of misinformation about sake. For example, many people will say that the more the rice is polished, the higher the quality, but this is not true at all. It is just one of the many decisions that the brewer will make that can affect the final style. It certainly means it will be more expensive but not necessarily better quality.

What do you think about Japanese wine?

Japanese wine has continued to improve greatly in the time I have been in Japan, with many small producers striving to make better and greater wine. Koshu, a Japanese native grape, is similar to Muscadet in style and really suits Japanese food. I really like some Japanese Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well, such as Takahata Winery in Yamagata. Hokkaido is also making some incredible wine. Not cheap though! When Japanese people do something, they often give it 100% and always strive for improvement. I am looking forward to the future of Japanese wine.

What do you think of the Japanese wine industry’s future?

I think some people overseas are interested in Japanese native grapes, but the price may be prohibitive. I think the key is to understand which grapes grow best where, understanding the terroir, and how to deal with a hot and humid summer. Japan is famous for high-quality, artisan products, and I believe producers will continue to improve. When borders open, I hope wine tourism will become a thing in Japan.

What is the distinctive lifestyle difference between your country and Japan? 

England and Japan have a lot in common being island countries with long histories. I find that Japanese and English people often can become good friends. A key difference is the idea of customer service. In England, as a customer, we are always polite and always say please and thank you to the staff, while the staff may not be that polite back! In Japan, it is the opposite. I can shout “Excuse me, 2 beers” without saying please and the staff will bring me 2 beers while being very polite. You can’t do that in an English bar.

Which places in Japan do you recommend that foreigners see?

Kyoto for sure. I personally love Matsumoto as a town and the post towns of Narai-Juku, of course, you can taste Japanese wine at Shiojiri on the way! For Japanese wine, you can visit Kofu, do sake tasting on the way back to Suwa-lake, and visit Hakushu Distillery in the same area.

Just getting lost in Tokyo’s back streets is also fun. Come when it isn’t so hot and humid and just walk everywhere.

Writer: Minobu Kondo
Photojournalist in Tokyo, writing for Japanese and American magazines. Publishing an essay “101 of green stories” with the other Japanese artists such as Kosetsu Minami. Languages: Japanese, English and French.

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