THE SAKE UN­DER­DOG TRI­UMPHANT

HIROSHI SAKU­RAI REV­ELS IN RICE-WINE SUC­CESS.

Seabourn Club Herald - - UNCORKED - By Stephen Grasso

In 1984, at the age of 34, Hiroshi Saku­rai took over his fail­ing fam­ily busi­ness — a small ru­ral sake pro­ducer lo­cated deep in the moun­tains of Ya­m­aguchi Pre­fec­ture. The com­pany, Asahi Shuzo, had been pro­duc­ing sake for more than 200 years, but was now on the verge of bank­ruptcy. Sake pro­duc­tion had gone into global de­cline. From a peak of 1.675 mil­lion kL (about 442 mil­lion gal­lons) con­sumed in 1975, the sales fig­ure would con­tinue to drop to a low of 589,000 kL (about 156 mil­lion gal­lons) by 2010.

Against this back­drop, Saku­rai man­aged to over­come the odds and trans­formed his strug­gling un­der­dog com­pany into a global lux­ury brand. Cen­tral to his suc­cess story was the de­ci­sion to cease pro­duc­tion of the or­di­nary-qual­ity Asahi Fuji sake that the com­pany was known for, and fo­cus ex­clu­sively on the pro­duc­tion of high-end jun­mai daig­injo-shu sake. Asahi Shuzo launched its flag­ship prod­uct, Das­sai, in 1992 — made with rice that had been milled to just 23 per­cent of its orig­i­nal size.

“I didn’t know whether we would make it," said Saku­rai in an in­ter­view with Nip­pon.com. "But one thing was clear — I knew we ab­so­lutely had to make a go of it in Tokyo. There was no way we could sur­vive by stay­ing lo­cal.”

He went door-to-door be­tween re­tail­ers and restau­rants try­ing to cre­ate in­ter­est in his sake, even­tu­ally get­ting a foothold in the city. In 2002, he ex­panded over­seas, first in Tai­wan, then in the United States the fol­low­ing year. Asahi Shuzo’s finest sake is now avail­able in 18 coun­tries world­wide, in­clud­ing Bri­tain, France, Hong Kong and Dubai.

In 2015, at a state din­ner at the White House, U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama made a wel­com­ing toast to Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe us­ing jun­mai daig­injo pre­mium sake made by Asahi Shuzo. Prime Min­is­ter Abe had him­self grown up in Ya­m­aguchi Pre­fec­ture, where Saku­rai's com­pany is based, mean­ing that the glob­ally re­spected brand rep­re­sented not only a na­tional but also a lo­cal suc­cess story, cel­e­brated in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.