Table Speech

 'In Vino Veritas'

September 8th,2004

Chairman of the Japan Sommelier Society and Board Chairman of the World Wine Co.
Mr.Takashi Atsuta

I was born in 1937 in Sahara in Chiba Prefecture. As a child, I played on the beach and wondered what wonderful things lay beyond the horizon. Thinking of ways to travel abroad cheaply, I became a seaman upon graduating high school. I had been receiving training to become a purser.

A former purser on a Japanese liner came to speak to us, and I still remember his explaining about wines and saying that ‘Wines never betray people, and it makes people’s minds better’. My first seagoing trip was on a cargo vessel of 12,000 tons and we went to Valparaiso in Chile where I was made to work quite hard, sleeping only 2 to 3 hours a night. A senior aboard ship, who had treated me roughly during the trip suddenly befriended me and took met to a restaurant on top of a hill. The glass of red wine he treated me to was my first experience with wine. Being moved by the sudden treatment as a friend and the deliciousness of the wine, I thought it was heavenly.

40 years have passed since then, and I have not been ill at all, and I have tasted numerous wines which is the story of my life.

I stayed on ship for 7 years, and a year before the Tokyo Olympic Games I enrolled in the YMCA International Hotel School. Then during the Games year, I obtained work at the newly opened New Otani Hotel in Tokyo. Many visitors came which I served, but one day a Frenchman came to our dining room.

He told me that although I seemed to be familiar with South American wines, I knew little of French or European wines, and that he would help me learn.He was a Mr. Pierre Chaliour who ran a chateau in St. Emilion of Bordeaux.I could not afford the air fare, so I took the Siberian railroad, and stayed over in Austria for several days to acquaint myself with European wines.

I was introduced to their Heurige which was so good that I stayed in Austria for a year and 4 months. I met and made German friends, and so went to Germany where I found many excellent wines. There were wines for diabetics, wine you would heat and drink when you caught a cold, etc., so I stayed a year. So, finally, I reached France, where I learned the ABC’s of wine from many persons.
They all asked me why wine was so expensive in Japan, and Mr. Chaliour also questioned why his brand was so highly priced. He told me I should study how prices of French cuisine and wines could be reduced in Japan. I stayed in St. Emilion for a year and 4 months. After returning, I worked as a Chef-Sommelier at the 3 star Tour d’Argent’s Tokyo Restaurant for 5 years, during which time I learned that Mr. Chaliour had passed away. I heard from his widow that he had asked if I was still selling wine at high prices.

Stimulated by these words, I opened the Grinzing Restaurant in Kojimachi in 1991. Grinzing is a small town in the outskirts of Vienna.

Since restaurant critics praised my restaurant in the paper, I find it is getting a reputation that reservations are difficult to obtain. In any case, I have been able to gain many friends and acquaintances through wine. My uncle used to tell me to consider all my friends as teachers and learn from them.

The President of the Tour d’Argent Restaurant in Paris who befriended me told me that in a restaurant, all the diners are spectators who watch the restaurant staff as actors on a stage, and we should conduct ourselves accordingly.

Regarding the pleasures of enjoying wine, one is deciding who to share it with, and then the pleasure of choosing the bottle, the choosing the dish to fit the wine , or vice versa. An important factor is choosing the wine glass. There are many fine wine glasses, but I favor the ones made by the Austrian Lobmeyr.

These are almost all made by hand and are light. Wine temperature depends on the taste of the people. The French do not chill red or white wines. It may not be best to drink wine under a chandelier or phosphorescent illumination, and better with candlelight, when you can appreciate the rich tint of the wine. We tend to over drink wine, and I recommend your taking cheese before touching dessert, as cheese contains enzymes which resolves alcohol.