The Japan Sake Brewers Association has named sake distributor Deja vu Sake Co’s owner and respected sake educator Yukino Ochiai as Australia’s first female Sake Samurai. The Samurai title is the highest honour in the sake industry, and only four sake ambassadors will be inaugurated alongside Ochiai at this year’s ceremony on Wednesday 27 September atKyoto’s Matsunoo-taisha shrine.
The Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council appoints a small handful of nominated individuals to Sake Samurai status each year. The award, established in 2005, is given to people who champion the culture and identity of sake in Japan and global markets. Ochiai is the third Australian to receive Samurai distinction, following the appointments of Sydney chef Tetsuya Wakuda in 2007 and sake ambassador Andre Bishop in 2013. Including this year’s appointments, only 70 people hold a Sake Samurai title worldwide.
Ochiai will become the 16th woman awarded with Sake Samurai status, in an industry where women are significantly underrepresented. In the Japan Sake Brewers Association, women hold only 30 of the 800 chairs within the Junior Council.
“Lots of women are coming into the industry and they’re doing a fantastic job,” says Ochiai. “I’m honoured to be one of them. Regardless of gender, I work in the industry because I love the product and I’m proud to promote the traditions from my home country.”
Japanese-born Ochiai established Deja vu Sake Co in 2012 with her husband Andrew Cameron (co-owner of Deja vu Wine Co), inspired by a vision to introduce boutique and small-batch Japanese sake to Australia. Within five short years in business, the company has asserted itself as a leading importer of Japanese sake, as well as other famed Japanese exports including whisky and shochu. Unlike traditional importing channels, approximately 40% of Deja vu’s sales are retail-driven rather than incurred through traditional Japanese restaurant trade.
“Yukino is generating huge amounts of enthusiasm in the Australian market and there is a growing buzz around sake in Australasia thanks to her tireless work and energy,” says Sam Harrop MW and New Zealand’s first awarded Sake Samurai. “She has taken sake to the mainstream in one of the most influential and opinionated wine markets in the world.”
In addition to Deja vu’s work in the promotion of sake in the Australian market, Ochiai has become the first Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certified sake educator in Australia. In 2016 Ochiai was one of 50 sake experts from around the world, and one of only two from Australia, to be asked to judge at the 10th annual International Wine Challenge Sake Competition held in Japan.
“Our dream at Deja vu is to make sake approachable to everyone,” says Ochiai. “I want Australians to be able to drink sake outside of Japanese restaurants, like at home with a slice of pizza.”
Prior to Ochiai’s inauguration, she will be joining creative forces with Ned Goodwin MW to host Taste of Japan, sake and wine dinner, at Melbourne’s Kisumé and Tokonoma in Sydney on 5 and 7 September respectively.
On 28 October, Ochiai will collaborate with Nihonshu Australia Association and Bottle Shop Concepts on their first consumer sake event, called Sake Matsuri. Details to be announced.