Controversy erupted in autumn 2010 when the price of a certain wine suddenly skyrocketed, as it was erroneously reported in France to be chosen the ultimate vintage in a TV series based on a hit Japanese manga.
The wine featured in the final episode of the television series "The Drops of God" (Kami no Shizuku) was Chateau le Puy 2003, from the Bordeaux region of France.
About a year and a half later, a French radio station erroneously broadcast the news that the manga had revealed it as the "Drops of God," even though that wine won't be announced for at least a few years.
In about the time it takes to pop a cork, the rumor spread from Europe to the Asian wine industry, which motivated a distributor to state that he was willing to purchase the wine at even 100 times the wholesale price.
The plot of the popular manga "Kami no Shizuka" goes something like this: before a renowned wine critic dies, he decrees that he will bequeath his estate worth 2 billion yen ($26 million) to the person who finds and identifies six great wines (12 in the manga) of his choosing, as well as the ultimate "Drops of God."
His son, who came to hate wine to spite his father, competes with a rival up-and-coming critic while using his prodigious sense of smell to hunt down the rare vintages.
The manga on which the television series was based began its serialization in 2004 in Weekly Morning (Shukan Morning), a manga magazine from major Japanese publishing house Kodansha, and is still running to this day.
The wines featured in the comic often disappear from shelves, and its 30 collected editions have sold a total of 3.5 million copies domestically. It is also published in France and has even uncorked wine booms in South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong,
It was created by "Tadashi Agi," which is actually the pen name of an older sister-younger brother duo, Yuko and Shin Kibayashi.
"We want as many people as possible to discover the appeal of wine, so we don't want prices to go up."
The single wine that changed their lives
When younger brother Shin was in his fourth year of university, he took company entrance exams for about 30 companies including publishing houses, advertising agencies and television stations, but failed them all.
He decided to wait another year to try again, and announced to people he knew that he was going to write a novel, eventually submitting a 380-page manuscript for the Edogawa Ranpo Award. Although he did not win, he joined Kodansha the following year, harboring the secret ambition of quitting to become an author after five years at the company.
While editing manga magazines at Kodansha, Shin was involved in writing popular serialized works such as "Kindaichi's Case Files" under various pseudonyms. His older sister Yuko, a freelance writer, got dragged into assisting him with penning various works.
Shin went freelance after 12 years with Kodansha. "I was on the verge of being asked to become chief editor, which would have been difficult to balance with creating my own work."
Then an encounter with a single wine changed the course of the siblings' lives.
One day, Shin held a wine party at his home. The fateful moment occurred after uncorking several bottles.
"A gorgeous floral fragrance spread throughout the room, and when I took a drink, it was if my entire body had been struck by lightning," says Yuko, who vividly remembers the impact it had on her. The wine was an '85 Echezeaux (Domaine de la Romanee-Conti) from France's Burgundy region.
Shin, who had been just an ordinary wine aficionado up until that point, immediately bought a wine cabinet with a 120-bottle capacity. Eventually, he and his sister rented an apartment in a 40-year-old wooden building to use as a wine storeroom. When their collection topped 2,000 bottles, they shifted it to a reinforced concrete condominium in order to protect the wine in case of an earthquake.
As collecting became more of an obsession for them, the peculiar expressions commonly used to describe a wine's qualities began to seem increasingly odd to them. Why compare a wine's taste to an "ashtray," or "finely crushed gravel," or "candle wax"?
"After all, breaking down aromas and flavors doesn't give you a sense of a wine's overall image. Take a painting: there's no point in talking about it in terms of the color of every paint that was used, is there?"
They would tilt their glasses while discussing the overall impression given by the bottle in front of them, beginning by contemplating whether it was "feminine or masculine." They went on to broaden their vocabulary of descriptors to even encompass paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Jean-Francois Millet, and the music of rock band Queen.
One day, Shin proposed the following.
"Couldn't we create a manga based on our concept of wine?"
Yuko was unsure.
"I don't know--would it really be a good idea to turn our hobby into a manga?" Compared to shochu at the time, wine's popularity was lackluster. Moreover, if they were going to begin a serialized comic, they would have to quit the ones they were already writing. The editor with whom they were working with was opposed to the idea of taking on the challenge of an unfamiliar genre.
However, Shin stuck to his guns. He knew that creators usually got their way in the end, and had confidence in his ability after writing several popular works. In the words of his sister, "He used his gift of gab to talk me into it."
They made their protagonist a novice in the ways of wine, so that readers could easily absorb the basic knowledge they imparted. A rivalry was added to kindle readers' interest.
"To be honest, I was confident that we could make it a hit," Shin recalls.
"The Drops of God" has since won numerous accolades, such as being named the world's best wine book at the Gourmand International World Cookbook Awards (the equivalent of the Academy Awards for cookbooks in France). Also, its authors were named knights of France's Order of Agricultural Merit (Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite Agricole).
"The Drops of God" depicts wines accurately as signature products of France's various regions," says Charles Durand, director of the Japanese branch of the Society for the Promotion of French Agro-Exports (SOPEXA).
A surprising conclusion
The siblings' wine collection now exceeds 4,000 bottles, and continues to grow. They imbibe and sample 1,000 bottles over the course of a year. Making a profession out of a hobby might seem to be taking the fun out of it, but both brother and sister state laughingly that the only downside is the occasional hangover.
Plotlines for "The Drops of God" come together over glasses of wine and idle chatter. "Every bottle of wine has its own story," says Yuko. "There's no shortage of material."
Perhaps because they have shared the same database of tastes from an early age, they never fight over differing impressions of a wine.
Seven years have now passed since the manga began its run. Currently, the story revolves around the hunt for the 10th of the 12 wines known as the "12 Apostles." At its present pace, it is on course to reach its end in two years' time. Which wine will be named the "Drops of God"?
"Our views on wine are also maturing, so it looks as if it will be different from the one we had initially envisioned," says Shin. "We want to take our time in developing the manga's final theme of what 'The Drops of God' is exactly. You can look forward to a surprising conclusion."
* * *
A pen name used by a team consisting of an older sister (Yuko Kibayashi) and a younger brother (Shin Kibayashi). Both are Tokyo natives. Yuko, born in 1958, is a freelance writer with numerous titles to her name, and began working with her brother as a manga writer from the early 1990s. Shin, born in 1962, graduated from Waseda University and joined Kodansha in 1987. He went freelance in 1999 after working as an editor for Weekly Shonen Magazine (Shukan Shonen Magazine) and is also active as a novelist.
Favorite sayings: Yuko: "God does not play dice." (Albert Einstein) "This is my own interpretation, but I get the feeling it dispels the notion that chance and necessity go hand in hand." Shin: "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." (Walt Disney)
Personalities: Both enjoy exploring their interests thoroughly. Yuko dreamed of becoming a manga creator up until her junior high school days, while Shin was a music fanatic in high school and university. He bought instruments such as a guitar, a bass guitar and a synthesizer, and at one point even considered becoming a professional musician. "No matter what anyone says, you have to stubbornly persevere," says Yuko. "Once you attain a level that can't be imitated, it becomes a personal asset."
Work and days off: They work together for three days a week, from after noon until late at night. "It makes for a good balance with time with our respective families," according to Yuko. "So we do our best to keep Saturdays and Sundays work free."
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