Bruce Gutlove

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Bruce Gutlove

    Main guest

    Hailing from New York, USA, Bruce Gutlove is a winemaker and the owner of 10R Winery. Originally a wine consultant in Napa Valley, California, he moved to Japan in 1989 at the invitation of a winery in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture that employs mentally disabled Japanese to offer them new ways to explore their full potential. The Ashikaga winery uses Japanese grapes to produce various types of wine. A sparkling wine that Gutlove helped the winery create was the first Japanese wine to make a formal appearance at a G8 Summit when it was served at the Kyushu-Okinawa G8 Summit in 2000, and then a red that he had helped to produce similarly made history when it was served at the Hokkaido-Toyako G8 Summit in 2008. In 2009, Gutlove moved to Hokkaido, where he currently runs his own winery.

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July 17, 2018

Japanophiles: Bruce Gutlove

*You will leave the NHK website.

This edition of Japanophiles is about more than great wine, although that is exactly what American Bruce Gutlove has devoted his life to producing. His story about embarking on adventures, overcoming challenges, and finding a new home unfolds as a traveler's tale that will resonate with many people who have put down roots in a distant land.

Many years ago, Gutlove was working as a wine industry consultant in Napa Valley in California when, out of the blue, he was approached about working in Japan. He eventually agreed to spend a few months at a vineyard in Tochigi Prefecture. As typically happens when an expert addresses a new initiative that involves familiar elements -- in this case grapes, vines and wine-making -- Gutlove assumed that he knew what to do and how to do it. But as we discover in the program, he was mistaken.

When an expert undertakes a challenge in an unfamiliar environment and things don't work out as expected, he or she may be tempted to find fault with the people or materials that he's working with, or with the way people do things, or with the choices they make, and so on. But not Bruce Gutlove. After taking a long hard look in the mirror, he buckled down and made an effort to adapt to the new circumstances that had taken him by surprise in Japan.

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Gutlove pays close attention to every detail in the wine-making process.

Years ago, people would tell you that Japan simply wasn't a good place to make wine. This writer used to hear theories about the weather, the soil, the grapes and so on being ill-suited to wine production. When you're not an expert, it is difficult to ascertain the truth of such matters. It is easy, on the other hand, to doubt the quality of a wine that doesn't conform to expectations of how a wine should taste. And even nowadays, the reaction of many foreigners to their first taste of Japanese wine is often straightforward and dismissive: it's too sweet.

But why was it that so many people in Japan had come to think of wine as a sweet drink in the first place? Among various contributing factors, one in particular that may be of interest to Japanologists was the popularity in the first decades of the 20th century of a certain alcoholic drink. Cleverly marketed using techniques that were well ahead of their time, this "red ball" (as its name means in English) was actually a Japanese take on port. It won success as a dessert wine as well as a sweet alcoholic drink that could be paired with certain types of Japanese cuisine. While it was not the kind of wine that would conventionally be served with the main course of a Western meal, it helped to shape Japanese perceptions of how wine should taste, and it is still being sold to this day.

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It turns out that conditions well-suited to the production of internationally acclaimed wine do exist in Japan.

Gutlove's challenge became to produce a drink that satisfied not only his own preference for dry wine, but also the palate of a nation where the established view was that wine should be sweet. At times he must have felt it was an almost impossible task, but as luck would have it, his determined efforts to make good wine in Japan coincided with a period when many Japanese were beginning to embrace international travel and global cuisine. Until around the 1970s, relatively few restaurants served high-quality Western cuisine even in Tokyo, let alone the rest of Japan. But in subsequent decades, as more Japanese started to enjoy drinks that went with different dishes from places like Italy, France and indeed, California, they also came to appreciate wine's full range and potential.

An appreciation for the full potential of people, meanwhile, was one of the key themes of the vineyard in Japan where Gutlove was employed, and where all the workers tending the vines had developmental challenges. Together, Gutlove, the workers and their employers explored new ways to make good wine, and their efforts were spectacularly rewarded on two occasions in particular, when wines they had produced were served at G8 Summit banquets in Japan.

These days, Bruce Gutlove and his family are based in Hokkaido, which has a very harsh winter climate. There can't be many wineries anywhere in the world that are exposed to sub-Arctic conditions for several months of the year, but Gutlove has demonstrated that the short northern summer is all he needs to make great drinks.

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A sparkling wine that Gutlove helped to produce was served at a banquet during the 2000 G8 Kyushu-Okinawa Summit. 

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Bruce Gutlove at work in his vineyard in Hokkaido.

Gutlove is clearly an expert adapter in a country with its own proud history of cultural adaptation, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that he now regards Japan not as his second home, but simply as home. One turbulent event made that fact clear to him. What event was that? Watch the show to find out!

*You will leave the NHK website.