In 2004, when sister-and-brother writing team Yuko and Shin Kibayashi started The Drops of God manga series about blind tasting classic wines, no one believed that the Japanese comic form would click with lovers of Y’quem and Montrachet.
But the pen-and-pour pairing immediately struck a chord, first in Japan, then in South Korea, the U.S. and even France.
Now, more than 40 volumes later, The Drops of God squad is behind a blind-tasting game app and a wine club featuring such producers as Matthiasson, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Marietta Cellars and Ashes & Diamonds Winery (visit dropsofgodwinesalon.com to sign up).
They recently launched a wine salon concept in Napa and Beverly Hills, after which they answered a few questions under their shared pseudonym, Tadashi Agi.
Did you ever think manga series about wine would become so popular around the world?
We were quite simply following our passion. When you are writing about a topic you love, it is much easier to detach from the outcome and wholeheartedly focus on wine and manga.
We are different from other wine writers in that our job is not simply to communicate facts and raw data about wine, but instead to make our mental images into imaginative manga.
We had faith in following our intuition that wine and manga were indeed a perfect match and that it would resonate with our readers. And above all, we wanted to encourage our readers to go out, buy a bottle and experience the happiness and magic that we feel as well.
It became a big hit in South Korea. Do you have any theories as to why that was?
This was around 2005, right when the Korean won [currency] was getting stronger and the economy was improving. Wine has links to social well-being, and maybe for that reason, we heard of situations where elite companies bought all the wines introduced in The Drops of God as a way to “educate” their employees.
Back then, most of the wines sold in South Korea were Chilean, due to lower import taxes, but now people can enjoy wines from countries like the U.S., Spain and France. The culture of wine has penetrated into that country.
The series also had a lot of success in France, and you’ve even been honored there. Were you surprised that the French liked it so much?
France was the most unexpected. French readers were able to rediscover their wine culture by reading The Drops of God, and that strange phenomenon helped maintain young people’s interest in wine.
The French government acknowledged that contribution, and we were presented with two awards: Ordre du Mérite Agricole in 2011, and L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2018.
Why do you think the series resonates so much with younger readers?
A lot of young people haven’t experienced wine or [don’t] know much about wine. For them, wine is a beverage that presents hurdles.
But 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.” Wouldn’t you be tempted to taste the exact same wine and experience that?
Everyone has a secret fantasy of being the most knowledgeable wine guru in the room. The Drops of God allowed people to gain this knowledge while simultaneously being entertained.
Did you enjoy the time you spent touring California?
Absolutely. We had no idea our manga had this many fans across the Pacific. This was our first time exploring the wine regions of California to this extent, and we have to admit having a preconceived notion about California wines going in: the typical stereotypes of big, oaky, dense and concentrated wines.
Not to say that those wines don’t have a right time and right place, but we were very surprised at the new wave of exciting producers who really shattered our stereotypes. They have an Old World way of thinking about New World wines.