Thursday, November 29, 2007

Divine Import

..."Any way you slice it, those are big numbers," says Ed Lehrman of Vine Connections, an importer of Argentine wine and Japanese sake based in Sausalito, Calif. "Sake is becoming more of a requirement as part of a complete program for distributors and major importers." Lehrman began as a wine connoisseur and marketer, tasting about 3,000 wines a year, before starting Vine Connections with wine partner Nick Ramkowsky and importing what has become a 12-brand sake portfolio, which accounts for about 30% of the company's sales.

Lehrman says that sake's lack of tannin structure and its low acidity compared with wine make it a drink that's hard not to like.
"Our role is part evangelist and part educator," he says. He educates restaurants and retailers on sake's
finer points, which, he says, can be approached through a lens of wine knowledge. "The kind of wine you like is the kind of sake you like," he says. "It seems to be a direct crossover. If you like white Burgundy, you'll like Niigata-style sake. [The taste is] clean."...

Sake buyer Paul Tanguay says more information in English on the label is key to U.S. sales. And he's one to be heard. Having worked with every distributor in the U.S. while he was the beverage director of Sushi Samba restaurants nationwide, Tanguay is a formidable player in the popularization of the drink and imported sake's upward trajectory. "So much of what goes into developing brands in this business is distribution," says Sidel. "This is true of management of any luxury good or product--who is buying it, who is drinking it--and that is determined by distribution."

Tanguay plans to continue educating sake drinkers as Vine Connections' national sake ambassador. "Paul will add significantly more bandwidth," says Lehrman. "He brings a lot of experience from the buyer's side." Tanguay says growth in sake consumption may not be evident in places like New York City, but it's definitely heading inland from the coasts. Read full article here

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