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'French wines still hold the number one position in terms of quality, value and variety'

Kunio Naito, owner of Cave de Relax in Tokyo, describes the market for wine in Japan in the run-up to the FTA with Europe.
Par Sharon Nagel Le 14 mars 2018
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'French wines still hold the number one position in terms of quality, value and variety'
- crédit photo : Cave de relax

he huge strides made in recent years by China’s wine market have dwarfed neighbouring Japan. Despite this, Asia’s most mature wine market still offers plenty of rewards for companies willing to invest in it. The Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Japan, which is due to come into effect in 2019, may well pave the way for renewed growth for French wines which have been ailing in recent years. Vitisphere asked Kunio Naito, owner of Cave de Relax, one of the most popular wine shops in Tokyo, to shed some light on the current market for wine in the Japanese capital and prospects for the future.

Can you briefly describe your company?

Cave de Relax was established in 1999. We have our flagship wine shop in Toranomon and four satellite wine shops in the centre of Tokyo.


What criteria do you use to choose your wines?

I like to choose decent wines, which offer good value, no or low chemicals and a good taste.

In other words, I want to choose wines which I buy for my customers but also want to drink myself.


Can you give us an idea of your sales volumes?

Our total retail sales are worth 720,000,000 yen. We sold 400,000 bottles in 2017. We also import about 750,000 bottles of wines through the group company, Relax corporation, which we distribute to wine shops, supermarkets and bar suppliers all over Japan.


How has your portfolio evolved in recent years?

My career started with Mercian, a major winery and wine importer in Japan, in 1983. Then I moved to Yamaya, a major wine & liquor shop chain, in 1993. I started Cave de Relax in 1999. My aim is to introduce good value wine from all over the world and educate consumers about wine lifestyle.

Recently, I have been trying to find good value Japanese wines and to educate our market.


Could you describe your typical customer?

My customers are wine lovers, heavy wine users and wine professionals.


What are the biggest changes in the Japanese wine market that you have seen over the past five to ten years?

Cheap Chilean wines have occupied many supermarket wine shelves.


How would you describe the position of French wines at the moment?

They still hold the number one position in terms of quality, value and variety in my opinion.


Which are the most popular categories of wine at the moment in your shop?

Burgundy is the most popular.


What is the most popular price point for selling wines to your clientele?

It depends on the categories. Daily wine sells for around 1,000 yen, Bordeaux and Burgundy, 3,000 yen – 5,000 yen, EU wines 1,500 yen – 3,000 yen and New World, 2,000 yen- 3,000 yen.



Do you think that the removal of import taxes for European wines will help sell more of them?

The tax is only from 50 yen to 93 yen per bottle. There will be no effect on expensive wine. For daily wine, it will help them sell more.


How do you think wine sales in general will perform this year?

I think sales will be almost the same as last year. Consumers might be getting tired of the over-fruity taste of Chilean wine.


How do you expect the market to change over the next five to ten years?

Our wine market has increased by 1,100% compared with 30 years ago. I expect it to keep growing not only by volume but also in terms of quality and philosophy. I want our market to become more sophisticated.



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