Kamo no Shizuku: The ‘Drops of God’ wine salon
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
2014 Matthiasson Napa Valley Red Wine
A Benjamin will, on dropsofgodwinesalon.com, get you a bottle of mythic winemaker Steve Matthiasson’s red blend from the place he calls home. Merlot (from Steve’s own vineyards) is just about in lock step with Napa Cab, balanced by a 10% hit of Cab Franc and a bit of Malbec and Petit Verdot. In his notes, Steve says he was aspiring to create a Claret-like wine that would have been enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson or Winston Churchill in their times. It is the kind of imagery that correlates to the creators of the manga series. “The magic of wine is that it is as much a story as it is a beverage: a marriage of place, process, and people,” Steve said about “Drops of God.”
Wine is the common denominator.
If you have a clue what the above story title refers to, you are in for a treat. If not, prepare to be enlightened.
If I asked you what “manga” is, would you guess maybe an obscure Moroccan grape? Or perhaps a bottle holding something more than 750 mls, but something less than a magnum? Or would you know that manga is a Japanese art form engaging comics and graphic novels to tell complicated, serialized stories about all things in the human experience?
So what does that have to do with wine? Well, one of the most epic manga stories ever produced tells an intricate tale of intrigue and competition between two protagonists who must decipher and identify, through a series of clues and tastings, the world’s most revered wines.
Called “Drops of God,” the series of manga comics was created and curated by a brother-and-sister team, Shin and Yuko Kibayashi (under a pseudonym Tadashi Agi), from 2004 until 2014. It also became a Japanese television program in 2009 and recently Amazon’s Comixology and Kodansha Comics digitally published all 44 volumes of “Drops of God” translated into English.
“Drops of God” begins with the death of an esteemed Japanese wine critic, who has amassed a storied collection of wines of enormous value. His estranged son, Shizuku Kanzaki — who has made his career in the beer business, eschewing his father’s passion — may be the likely heir. But dad has created a deeply devious way of deciding whether Shizuku, or Issei Toominea, a young, intense wine critic who had been mentored by the deceased, will take the inheritance. The two must compete to identify what the critic has determined to be the Twelve Apostles, the world’s best case of wine, and a 13th wine, the baker’s dozen if you will, which would be the “Drops of God.”
What followed for 10 years, in hand-drawn form, was an obsessive hunt for and descriptions of wines from around the globe, as Shizuko and Issei competed to identify and describe the apostles. Wines like the 2000 Château Palmer (the second apostle) from Bordeaux or the 2003 Sine Qua Non The Inaugural (Eleven Confessions) Syrah Central Coast AVA (the seventh apostle) identified by Issei were dissected and analyzed in occasionally clinical, but mostly esoteric, heartfelt, emotional passages.
But the new news came this last month.
A “Drops of God Wine Salon” launched here in the U.S. with the idea of creating a unique “paradigm-shattering wine experience” for consumers. Essentially a wine club in “Drops” clothing, the idea is to engage members in the basic tenets of the story.
“We will be applying the same principles for the exploration of American wines we shared in the manga: Heaven, Earth, Man and Marriage,” Shin and Yuko explained in a press release about the Salon. “In ‘The Drops of God,’ Heaven represents the weather, and is a direct reference to the climate of a given geographical area. Earth refers to terroir, or soil and viticultural/cultural practices and conditions. Man refers to winemaking and cellar practices, while Marriage refers to the marriage of wine and food.”
For $300 per quarter (aside from various discounts) members will receive six bottles each season of New World wines curated by Shin and Yuko, along with their Napa Valley-based business partner Peter Chiang, president of Bijou USA and vice president of Bijou Japan, the global joint venture established with the Kibayashis to “better serve salon members in the United States, Japan and Taiwan.” That comes out to $50 per bottle and is a steal for wines produced by the likes of Ashes & Diamonds, Calera, Failla, Matthiasson, Massican, Noria, Kanpai, Robert Sinskey, Marietta, and Scribe.
But as crazy at it may seem, the wines are only one part of the “Drops of God” Wine Salon’s potential. Members will be immersed in a culture and community that reveres wine, the places it comes from and the people who make it. There will be members-only live-streaming events, an app including Chef José Andrés (yes, the one who threw out the first pitch at the World Series) and Rob Wilder’s WineGame, and opportunities to explore one’s own taste through the salon’s innovative “Palate Quiz.” And, in late 2020, an inn in Calistoga dedicated to “Drops of God” is expected to open.
“Drops of God” has generated an estimated 300-plus million impressions in television and manga form. Wineries featured in the print version have had to curtail releases of their wines due to excess demands placed by readers of the manga. At the release parties for the salons at chef Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville and Chef Andrés’ The Bazaar in Los Angeles, hundreds gathered to taste wines, pay homage to Shin and Yuko and just be a part of the scene.
If this is the next generation of wine clubs, I want in.
“2023 predicted to be the Vintage of a Lifetime in Napa Valley,” proclaimed the headline this week in a press release sent out by the Napa Valley Vintners, the trade organization that represents the growers and producers in America’s most famed wine region. If there is anyone more optimistic than winemakers, it is the group that represents them.