Mastering Wine: a Korean-Japanese Couple in France

Park Jae-wha (right) and Koji Nakada. Park Jae-wha (right) and Koji Nakada.

It is definitely a bottle of Burgundy, but it is labeled with three Chinese characters meaning sky, earth, and human printed on a yellow background. It is produced by Maison Lou Dumont, which gained fame through a Japanese comic book titled "Kami no Shizuko (The Drops of God)," a company run by a Korean-Japanese couple, Park Jae-wha (42) and Koji Nakada (36).

Park used to teach history at university in Busan until the spring of 1996. But that summer her mother collapsed, and there was nothing much she could do with the small salary she earned as a non-tenured lecturer. A professor at university recommended Park study art restoration because it is rare to find a specialist in the field and she would be able to have a professional career. She went to France, and there she met a Japanese man in a beginner's French classroom who said he had come to learn about wine. "He asked me to go to wine tastings with him, and explained to me everything he then knew about wine. I felt wine was not just alcohol but a whole culture," Park says today. When she came back to Korea in the summer of 1997, she began to buy wine-related books and learn the terminologys. It eventually led her to study oenology at the University of Bourgogne in Dijon, and in CFPPA in Beaune.

Nakada, meanwhile, started working part-time in a French restaurant in Japan at the age of 18. The boss believed that staff had to go and experience the atmosphere of France for themselves to grasp the modern culinary culture of the country. So he took them to France every year. Everyone ordered wine all the time, even during the day. "At one point, I thought wine would becomea a staple of Japanese culinary culture," Nakada recalls. "That's how I decided to get to know wine better." He studied wine in Bordeaux, "and met a Korean woman six years older than me in a French class," he continues. "I asked her to go wine tasting with me. She seemed quite surprised to listen to my expertise on wine," said Nakada.

So they met and started studying wine together.

In 1999 they got married, and in 2000 they set up Lou Dumont, a "negociant," or middle merchant, who buys the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells them under its own name. But Park and Nakada not only act as a go-between, they also produce wine on their own. Currently Maison Lou Dumont produces 22 kinds of Burgundy, and 11 are being imported to Korea.

At first, it was difficult to sell the products of a winery that had no reputation. However, luck came at an unexpected time: their 2003 Meursault white wine was featured in the ninth book of the Japanese comic, and the impact was incredible. The 2003 Meursault sold out three months after the book came out. Inquiries from Korea did not stop. Park says she is eternally grateful to the comic book.

The couple say they want to make wine that makes you wonder what the next glass will taste like. Strong and blazing claret or Chilean wine tastes good at first, but it is difficult to go beyond the second glass. But with Burgundy, if you open the bottle and let it breathe for half an hour, the taste and the nose become completely different from what it was when it was first opened. "It makes you keep wondering," they say.

englishnews@chosun.com / May 26, 2008 09:02 KST