Manga Makes Château Le Puy a Bestseller
Bordeaux winemaker Jean-Pierre Amoreau, 72 , the unassuming owner of Château Le Puy, an estate run by his family for 400 years, has become a manga hero and a celebrity in Japan despite himself.
Still heading the business at the family’s 25 hectare vineyard, with its Côtes de Francs appellation, he has, without warning found himself universally recognised in Japan where when recently travelling the Tokyo subway he was almost mobbed by wine manga fans.
( まんが or Manga are Japanese comic books and Manga — pronounced Maw – Nnnnn – Gah are often made into Japanese cartoons, or Anime.)
According to La Dépêche ever since the screening of a Japanese TV series hit, adapted from the erudite, popular wine-themed manga “Les Gouttes de Dieu” (Drops from God), turned his simple Château Le Puy 2003 AOC wine into a TV cartoon sensation, he has become a virtual cult figure in Japan.
He told the newspaper that on March 11, 2009, the day of the release in Japan of the cartoon series episode that showed his Château Le Puy 2003 as a wine “apostle”, a cru or classified vineyard enshrined in the cartoon’s storyline, the notoriety of what he calls a “simple appellation” exploded and the winemaker was forced to suspend sales worldwide.
“On that day we suddenly received around 200 orders from Japan and when we asked our local agent what was happening he discovered a huge buzz had been generated by the series. We immediately stopped all sales around the world to avoid speculation.”
“Pascal, my son, and I had a brief discussion and decided that it would be healthier for our reputation and our wine if we stopped sales to avoid price speculation. We asked our agents in Japan, Canada and elsewhere to remove the bottles from shelves,” says Jean-Pierre Amoreaux. “We wanted to ensure this wine was available to the customers who have helped us make a living for the past 50 years. Soon after this the price returned to its normal level of around 19.90 euros”.
Before it was turned into a successful TV series “Drops from God”, was a manga publishing phenomenon thanks to its erudite treatment of its subject — the wine world.
According to Glénat, the publisher of the French version of the comic strip, more than three million copies of the first 23 volumes of the series have been sold in Japan. Three and a half million have been sold in other Asian countries, while in France, 400,000 copies of the first 13 episodes were snapped up by French manga lovers.
The recipe for this global success (of both the manga and the wines it features) is a plot developed as a page-turning thriller: the heros are two brothers fighting over the legacy of a world-renowned wine expert, who in his will has left twelve puzzles to be solved. Each puzzle leads to the discovery of an exceptional wine. The thirteenth puzzle reveals “Drops from God”, the perfect wine.
The Japanese fans are now on the 24th episode and the intrigue over the perfect wine, will not be known until the 40th and final episode.
“This comic is very well done, it really helps the reader to learn the world of wine” says Jean-Pierre Amoreau, who is featured in the 21st episode. The winemaker says that in late 2009, after “unknowingly” becoming a manga character, he met the author or rather the authors.
Behind the pseudonym Tadashi Agi, who along with cartoonist Shu Okimoto signs the series, is a brother and sister writing duo. “They have extensive knowledge of wine, and when they came for a visit to our estate they asked dozens of questions about the nature of the soil, the biodynamic methods we use in cultivating our vines and so on …”, says Amoreau. “What I appreciated was their vision, their approach, they belittle no wines, they appreciate all wine, from a simple wine such as mine to a très grand cru. . I invited them to taste all the vintages of the Château. They had discovered Le Puy by chance during a tasting in Japan. And when they had finished their tasting tour of our cellars, they told me it was even better than they had ever imagined.”
As in Japanese culture where respect is a core value, the winegrower says he holds both his customers and the environment in great respect. In the early 20th century my grandfather chose never to use synthetics in making wine. They were producing organic wine long before anyone started marketing it! We moved to biodynamics — the trace elements that give a local expression to the wine, in 1990 and we never use chemicals,” Jean-Pierre Amoreau said.
Even though he is unsure how the Japanese authors initially found his wine — only 5,000 of the 120,000 bottles he produces annually are exported to Japan, Jean-Pierre Amoreau thinks the “mangaka” (as the authors are known in Japanese) have been seduced by “the wine’s authenticity, its expression of its terroir.”
The winemaker who works with his wife Frances and his son Pascal said: “We make a wine that is different, we try to remain as close we can to the terroir, to the original grape as we can”.
Story: Ken Pottinger