Jamie Paquin's Tokyo store thrives selling only Canadian wines
Canadian wine exports to Japan have doubled in the last five years
There is no sake for sale at Jamie Paquin's wine shop in central Tokyo. There is also no whisky, vodka or rum.
Instead, the walls of his narrow store are furnished with bottles of British Columbia Viognier and Cabernet Franc, one of the wines of Niagara.
In fact, all the labels at Heavenly Vines say "Made in Canada."
"You've got 37 million people in the radius[of Tokyo], and it has the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Tokyo far dwarfs Paris. So I thought we had a chance to carve a niche out here," says Paquin.
The Brockville, Ont., native organizes his shelves geographically, starting with selections from the Okanagan and Sicamous Valleys, then moving east to grape-growing regions in Ontario. Representing more than 30 producers from across the country, Heavenly Vines is the first liquor store beyond Canadian borders to only sell Canadian wine.
Paquin says he didn't even really start drinking wine until he moved to Japan. "It was an option for alcohol. If it was there, it would be fun to have a glass," he says.
Paquin came to Tokyo on a one-year PhD research scholarship in 2006, and never left. He married a Japanese woman and dove into a culture obsessed with eating and drinking well.
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"I had a guy tell me that he and his wife drove to Hiroshima, which is probably 700 kilometres from here, to try a certain type of noodle," says Paquin. "Being around that has also given me an appreciation of those things and I see that expressed in wine."
It has the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Tokyo far dwarfs Paris- Tokyo wine merchant and Canadian, Jamie Paquin
Paquin says his customers are a mix of expats and Japanese. Those born in the land of the rising sun usually have a connection to Canada, either through travel, work or school.
Manami Suzuki met her Canadian fiancé while studying English in Vancouver. They're getting married in Tokyo in December, and have decided to serve only Canadian wine at their reception. "After he proposed to me we went to an Okanagan winery to have lunch. It's very beautiful there."
Canadian wine exports to Japan have nearly doubled in the last five years, reaching close to $1.2 million in 2013.
Cheerleader for Canadian wine
Along with introducing his Japanese customers to new grape varieties and blends, Paquin also helps to plan their Canadian vacations.
"I'm doing that this week for a Japanese woman that's aspiring to get some acting and film work in Canada. I say if you're going to Vancouver, check the Okanagan out. And she's going through there and to a couple wineries."
Since opening his store four years ago, Paquin has been a tireless cheerleader for Canadian wine in Japan. "You don't have an existing demand because nobody knows it exists. Canadian tourism commissions around the world tend to present images of the Rocky Mountains and the Aurora Borealis. So nobody imagines us as a grape-growing region."
But through social media and tastings, Paquin is now supplying Canadian wine to many trendy wine bars and high-end Tokyo hotel chains, such as the Ritz-Carlton and Grand Hyatt Tokyo.