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The Drops of God: The Manga That Disrupted the International Wine Market
Bea Caicoya
2021-07-05T15:58:15
drops of god wine market
drops of god wine market
The cult classic manga The Drops of God is getting a full English release via comiXology, finally bringing the entire wine-loving saga to English-speaking readers. It quickly became a hit in Asia and France between 2004 and 2014, with the 40-volume series regularly topping the charts.
The Drops of God's success completely disrupted the international wine market for over a decade, propelling obscure winemakers to celebrity status, increasing domestic and international sales, and even fed into wine speculation with bottles that were usually priced around $20 reaching the thousands overnight. Here's the full story.
Siblings Yuko and Shin Kibayashi -- pseudonym Tadashi Agi -- are the creative team behind The Drops of God. They loved wine long before pitching the series in 2004, peppering their previous sci-fi/thriller works with references to their favorite vintages. However, it was when they tasted a 1985 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Echézeaux that the idea for this series fully formed. Depicting the flavor into lush, cultured double-spread mindscapes was one of the three key ingredients for The Drops of God. The second was a focus on family drama structured around a mystery, and the third their intention to introduce readers to the complex world of wine in an entertaining and accessible way.
"In The Drops of God, the main character has no knowledge of wine. He starts tasting wine one by one and starts out with expressions like, “This is a very good wine. It’s like the song by Queen," they said in a 2020 interview for Wine Enthusiast. "Wouldn’t you be tempted to taste the exact same wine and experience that?"
It worked. In Japan and South Korea, where the manga was first published, wine stores started to advertise their vintages as "featured in "The Drops of God." In 2005 more people were able to access wine, but lacked the the language to describe their favorites and why they enjoyed them. And while The Drops of God was unapologetically an ode to Yuko and Shin's favorite -- mostly obscure -- wines, they were thoughtful enough to include a short beginner's guide in each volume.
"We heard of situations where elite [South Korean] companies bought all the wines introduced in The Drops of God as a way to “educate” their employees," Yuko Kibayashi added in the same interview.
When French comic book publisher Glénat translated The Drops of God, it also had an almost-immediate effect in the French wine market. Three producers in particular felt the manga's influence in their sales, both international and abroad. One of the most memorable wines covered in The Drops of God is Château-Mont-Perat, the explosive wine from the Gironde region that was compared to a Queen's concert. Its normal price was €15, but after it appeared in the manga it attained prices of €150 per bottle. To meet the regional and international demand, Thibault Despagne, the winemaker, completely overhauled his process, going from an annual production of 25,000 cases to 50,000. "This manga is an extraordinary [sales] lever, much more effective than the Parker points," Despagne said to L'Expansion.
Philippe Carrille, the head behind the 1999 Château Poupille featured in The Drops of God Volume 9, was pulled out of his relatively sedate winemaking world and into the role of an instant celebrity. When he went to Hong Kong for Vinexpo, he was accosted by people who wanted his autograph in their jackets. He lamented that he didn't have a heads-up, as that year he could have sold 15 times his annual harvest. "This wine is still out of stock," Carrille said, "but the fans of this manga are still interested by our millésimes, and as a result, my sales have increased by 30%."
But it was Pascal Amoreau, the winemaker behind the elusive Émilien 2003 du Château Le Puy -- the wine deemed the best in the world by The Drops of God's 2009 live-action adaptation -- who got the lion's share of the attention, and who had the most extreme reaction to his family's newfound fame.
"It was a complete surprise for us to discover that we were the "heroes" of the story," said Pascal Amoreau in a 2011 interview. "The day when that volume was published in Japan, we were assaulted by phone calls and e-mails from Japan to try and order the 2003 millésime that was so beloved in The Drops of God. Unfortunately, those orders arrived a little bit late, because the 2003 millésime was almost out of stock."
"We had to put an end to the speculative market on that millésime, as there were some smart monkeys who tried to order it on the black market at flippant prices, so to put a stop to that speculation we stopped everything, putting away the few bottles that were left until everything calmed down. The 2003 was around €18 per bottle, and in one night it reached a price abroad of €500 to €1000 per bottle. That's when we decided to put a stop to it; we were concerned about our reputation."
The Amoreaus' concern was three-fold: first, the regulations for French winemakers regarding exports are very tight, with closely monitored export ratios and pricing. Second, Pascal and his father were concerned that the sudden success would encourage counterfeit wines of lower quality. Finally, they wanted to ensure that the few bottles of the now-legendary 2003 Château-Le-Puy would be available and accessible to future generations of wine lovers.
"We have 1,200 bottles left of the 2003 millésime, and we will only release 300... in ten years. Then, 200 more in the following decade." Amoreau (father) explained to France Info. All of the bottles will be released at the same original price as 2003's: €18.
"The main problem with that [Drops of God] manga is that the wine pictured is from 2003, and we no longer sell that," added Pascal. A good alternative from the same winery is the 2016 Château Le Puy, which was an excellent year for the region.
Surprisingly, Amoreau's export ratio didn't increase like his colleagues' -- he was already at 80% of international sales. However, as the Drops of God volumes were published in France, he noticed a significant increase in his domestic sales: 15% up each year starting in September 2009, when the French news media first picked up the news of The Drops of God wine fever. He gives full credit to the manga for getting an entire generation of French youngsters interested in wine and wine-making, and he wasn't the only one.
"The French government acknowledged our contribution," said Yuko and Shin Kibayashi. "We were presented with two awards: Ordre du Mérite Agricole in 2011, and L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2018." Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto, the artist of the series, were also inducted to the most prestigious Bordeaux wine brotherhood, the Commanderie des Bontemps.
Nowadays, the team's touch is still a guarantee of success for any winemaker, their influence spreading all over the world -- from the Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier of South Australia to the blood-like Italian Miani Rosso de Friuli. The Drops of God manga series is over, but they continue to capitalize their clout and passion through their newest venture, a blind-tasting game app and a California-based wine club. The main reward? Their wine apartment, where they keep their 3,000-bottle collection and which is secured against earthquakes -- truly a treasure to rival Kanzaki Yutaka's cellar.
The Drops of God (Kami no Shizuku) was created by Tadashi Agi, a pseudonym for the brother-sister team of Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, and drawn by Shu Okimoto. It was published in Weekly Morning, Glénat (in France) and Vertical in the USA. Its 40 volumes are now available in English on Comixology.
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