Getting this piece together made me eager to find out what led Jean-Jacques Bacci to leave the science lab in Manhattan and start a Sake distribution company with his wife Arisa and base their enterprise in Corsica.
Q: Jean-Jacques, how did you discover Sake?
I discovered sake a few years ago, in 2003, in New York, where I worked for three years.
Q: When was Midorinoshima founded?
Q: Was it a lengthy process from time the idea germinated to the launch?
Six month to maturate the project, one year to launch the definitive product, then new sakes came one after the other.
Q: Midorinoshima means 'Green Island' (Ile Verte), can you elaborate on the origins
of the name?
My wife Arisa is from Japan; I am from Corsica; we met in Manhattan. This is enough reason for the "shima" (= Island). Our objective is to promote quality products from Japanese and Corsican agriculture. This is where the "midori" (= green) comes from.
Q: Your wife and partner Arisa Suda was working in internet security while you were a neurobiologist at Columbia, what brought you to New York originally?
I followed kind of a typical route for French scientists. I got my phD degree in France, then I started a work experience abroad, in the US. I decided to move to NY, simply because I had a scientific interest in what the laboratory was doing.
Q: Why did you base the company in Corsica, France?
As an importing company, you don' t really need to be located next to a business center. What you need are good and reliable logistics. We spend lot of energy in organizing this logistic stuff.
Another reason is that Corsica is a tax free region for new companies.
The last one is that Corsica is a beautiful place to live. If one is not scared of travelling a lot for business, everything will be fine.
Q: Are you selling mostly in France or all over Europe?
Mostly in France, but we explore other markets in Europe and other countries. We also sell in Hong Kong, South Korea and soon in Finland.
Q: Who had the best knowledge of Sake originally, you or Arisa?
We didn' t have that much knowledge in the beginning. We studied a lot together.
Q: How did you start connecting with producers?
At first, we simply post an ad on a governmental website specialized on trading. Then, little by little, we made our connexions. Now we are working with a very reliable person that keeps us updated about new products and nice cave that could be interesting.
Q: Were you aware of all the red tape, paperwork, regulations you would have to deal with to get the precious liquid from Japan to European shores?
Yes we did. This was part of all preparation we had to do. It is quite tricky at the beginning but we are used to now.
Q: If you were to introduce Sake to someone who knew little to nothing
about it what would you say and what would you suggest they taste?
I would recommend starting with a sake that have expressive nose such as Kawasemi, because before having somebody deeping his lips into a drink, the smell has to be interesting. Little bit sweet, to start educating your palate.
Kawasemi fits with this requirement and that' s why we chose it. It is quite an exceptional product because sake lovers really enjoy it and understand that it' s a very special sake, and beginners love it because it completely changes your mind about what people think about sake
Q: You go beyond the usual marketing effort, you share the whole Sake
making process as well as Sake's place in Japanese culture, why this
First, I really like the technical aspect of things (I am scientist). Second, I think you enjoy better something you understand well.
In Europe, people thing that sake is a high alcohol drink. We had to put a particular effort on explaining how sake is made, and insist on the fermentation process. This is something French people understand because they can compare with wine.
Q: Is Kawasemi O-Sake your main line?
It is, but we also have product
like Koi Koi, Sayori and Koshinohana daïginjo, that work quite well.
We strongly belive that Kawasemi can become a standard in the sake world. It is so particular that every sake shop or liquor store is going to have it sooner or later. Every sake lover should enjoy it at least once.
Q: Can you lay out for us the differences between various types of Sake?
Depending on the type of rice, the quality of water, the biologic agents that are used (Koji and Yeasts), the technique of the toji, the location of the brewery, many differences can appear. It would be very difficult to summarize it in few words.
I would recommend taking a look at our Five Elements web page that summarizes it.
Q: You do a fair amount of tastings, do you find it to be a very effective way to gain new converts?
This is the only way so far in France. Sake is not very well known and available on the market, so we have to go in this direction more and more.
We have to make people understand that sake can go with many different kinds of food and can be enjoyed in many different ways.
Q: I noticed you just did one of these at Design Salon in Milan, what made it a good fit?
In Italy, sake is not known so much and everything
has to be done in the same way as we did in France.
The opportunity came through a journalist in a great wine magazine there who was preparing an article about sake.
I personally think that sake has a great potential in the wine countries because even if wine and sake are different products, people's palate is ready for it.
Q: You also were present at Salon du Chocolat 09 in Paris, how does Sake
pairs with chocolate?
When we first had Kawasemi tasted by sommeliers, all of them mentioned wanting to associate this particular product with chocolate.
We introduced Kawasemi to Jean Paul Hévin, probably the best chocolatier in the world. He found the pairing really interesting and started working on it. He created chocolate made of a ganache with sake kasu (paste of sake that is left after pressing).
We did this pairing in Salon du Chocolat in Paris and Tokyo and people enjoyed it very much. It is sort of a game in the chocolate world to find this kind of pairings.
Q: Are they chocolate flavored Sakes?
know some breweries are doing this kind of things (in Sado Island for example),
but I never tasted such a kind of sake. I don' t think adding flavors
to Sake is an interesting way to develop this product. People are doing
many things with chocolate because it's popular in Japan right now.
I' ve seen chocolate beer, chocolate Sochu .
Q: Could you share some of your favorite Sakes?
1. Kawasemi (of course this is my favourite), Niigata
2. Koshinohana Daïginjo, Niigata
4. Juyondaï, fromYamagata
5. Ku, from Aïchi
Q: To conclude, can you name shops around the globe worth checking if you love Sake?
Atarashiya-saketen in Niigata,
Hasegawa-saketen in Tokyo,
True sake, in San Francisco
Bozu, in Brooklyn, NY
And Midorinoshima, our shop in Porto-Vecchio, Corsica....
Thanks Jean-Pierre for sharing your Sake knowledge.
I hope you learned as much reading this piece as I did writing it.
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