Convert France, one of the main wine-growing nations, to the charm of nihonshu, better known under the name of “sake”… The bet is daring. Yet this is the challenge taken up by Takuma Inagawa, a thirty-two-year-old Japanese entrepreneur. After having created a brewery in Japan in 2016 called ” Wakaze », He came to settle in Fresnes (Val-de-Marne). His workshop, or “sakagura” in Japanese, brewed his first cuvées last year. “Kanpai! ” [« Santé ! » note du traducteur.]
Sake, you have to forget this twisted alcohol served in Asian restaurants… Because real Japanese sake is closer to a good white wine than pear alcohol. It is obtained by fermentation of rice, and its degree of alcohol is similar to that of wine, with subtleties and variants of aromas that are just as easy to drink.
Un air de Shizuku Kanzaki
Takuma Inagawa is not the first to attempt a breakthrough in this market in France. In 2015, the first Maison du Sake opened in Paris, rue Tiquetonne. Then in 2018, Joël Robuchon opened, shortly before his death, a sake bar, also in Paris. Part wine shop, part restaurant, these two places offer to taste the best of Japanese production. The Wakaze project is very different. It is offer sake made in France, brewed in France, with rice grown in the Camargue, and aged in oak barrels.
And, in this young Japanese entrepreneur, there is a bit of Shizuku Kanzaki, the hero of famous manga on wine “Les Gouttes de Dieu”. After studying engineering in Japan, he landed in France at the Ecole Centrale for two years. Then returned to Japan and served as a consultant at BCG with beer brewers… like Shizuku Kanzaki.
In 2016, he tried the entrepreneurial adventure. Wakaze starts in Japan with a small brewery and then a restaurant in Tokyo. With his brewing partner, Shoya Imai, they will innovate by offering a sake aged in oak barrels. “It didn’t exist in Japan. We have been influenced by the French wine culture. “ The trial is transformed with nearly 30,000 bottles sold in the second year, according to Takuma Inagawa.
Wakase sake is brewed in France from Camargue rice.
Restaurants for direct sale on the Internet
The return to France takes place at the beginning of 2019, with the creation of a subsidiary and a workshop in Fresnes. Wakaze Japan is investing 360,000 euros. Getting started is quick: the entrepreneur its development is based on what has proven itself in Tokyo, B2B. The brand benefits from its credibility acquired in Japan and quickly succeeds in being referenced by around fifty restaurateurs. Everything is going well … until containment in spring 2020.
The administrative closure of restaurants then forces Wakaze to change its model. The brand launches into direct sales, starting from scratch. In a few months, Wakaze is reviewing all of its communication: bright colors, a hype tone, characters drawn in manga style … “When we arrived in France, we didn’t know how to do business, assure Takuma Inagawa. Here I learned a lot about DNVB. And I benefited from the advice of the community of entrepreneurs, very strong in France. “
Among the startuppers who give him some advice, there is Aymeric Grange, co-founder of the 900.care brand. “I opened a few doors for him, recognizes the entrepreneur, who does not hide his admiration. His work is of exceptional quality. It is very courageous what he does. Internationalization is very difficult, but having the founder there is the right approach. “ This presence on site made it possible to quickly take strong decisions, such as that of the repositioning in B to C. “At the end of 2020, we are selling around 4,000 bottles per month”, assures Takuma Inagawa. Direct sales almost offset the drop in restaurant sales.
The Japanese entrepreneur learns quickly. He also found favorable soil in France. When he compares the two ecosystems, French and Japanese, it is more to the advantage of France. “It’s easier, faster, more efficient. In Japan, the administrative procedures are more complicated. Here, everything is online, there are fewer papers. “ For him, France is a first step, before why not developing elsewhere in Europe. “We want to become a big company, to become a global brand of sake”, he admits. “Banzai! ” [ « Longue vie ! » note du traducteur.]