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Taking Paso Robles on the Road to Japan and South Korea

This past Wednesday at around 6:30pm, I got home, on the same day and at almost exactly the same time that I'd left Seoul roughly 17 hours earlier. This miracle of time travel (thank you, International Date Line) was just the final marvel in what was an amazing 10-day trip through three cities in Japan and South Korea in support of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and the California Wine Institute's Export Program, which promotes California's wines abroad. The specific program was their "California Alive" tour that brings the wines of California to Tokyo, Osaka, and Seoul. 

While the California Alive tour happens each February, the event features a different California wine region each year. This year, the featured region was Paso Robles, and so representatives from ten local wineries made the trek across the Pacific Ocean for the tastings (which were open to all California wineries and their importers) and for a dedicated Paso Robles seminar in each city, along with media, influencer, and consumer events that were organized for us by the Wine Institute around the three trade tastings. The events were spaced out enough that there was time in each city for us to work with our local importers and even do a little sightseeing. Given that this was my first trip to Asia, that was very much appreciated. Even better, my brother-in-law Mark Dunn flew up from Bangkok to help me pour and explore:

With Mark Dunn

The event began in Tokyo. Six of us got in at more or less the same time on Sunday evening, and our introduction to the local food was an informal but delicious dinner at a local place orchestrated by the Wine Institute's Hiro Tejima:

First night out with Paso Robles group in Tokyo
The next morning, I woke up early enough thanks to jetlag that I had a chance to explore the Imperial Palace grounds before my work responsibilities started:

JCH in front of Imperial Palace

My sightseeing itch scratched, I headed to the offices of of our Japanese importer Jeroboam for a staff training for their sales team and a lunch visit to a one of the restaurants that sells Tablas Creek in Tokyo, all before our first formal Wine Institute event: a tasting with local influencers at one of the Tokyo locations of the Weber Grill Academy:

Wines at Tokyo influencer event

Influncers at Weber Grill Tokyo

After the event, I hopped in a taxi to get to Cellar Door Aoyama, the Tokyo retailer and restaurant owned by Jeroboam, for what turned out to be an amazing dinner:

Cellar Door Aoyama dinner menu

The next day included the first of the big tastings, where I was assisted by Jeroboam's PR & Marketing Director Yoko Yamashita (foreground left):

With Yoko at Tokyo tasting

The next day, we hopped on a bullet train and headed to Osaka to repeat the program. Somehow, I didn't get many photos of the official events, just all the delicious food that we ate before and after (for that, you can check out my Instagram feed). Then, we headed to the Osaka airport and flew to Seoul. As in Tokyo, the first event was a media and influencers event in conjunction with a Weber Grill store. This is the full Paso Robles plus Wine Institute contingent who made the Korea leg of the trip:

Group outside Seoul Weber Grill event

The next day was Sunday and our first day off since we'd arrived, which meant a chance to see the city. The owner (Yongbin Choi) and our brand manager (Katie Kang) of our South Korea importer Shindong Wine gave us an amazing insider's tour of the city, from palaces to markets to an end-of-day visit to Seoul Tower for an amazing view overlooking the city: 

Jason and Mark with Yongbin and Katie

The Wine Institute tasting was outstanding again and included a terrific seminar where we got to dive into what makes Paso Robles unique:

JH speaking at Seoul seminar

Seoul seminar setup

Whites on ice in Seoul

That was the end of the official events, but I stuck around Seoul one more day to take the Shindong Wine team through the Tablas Creek story, visit one of the enormous and gorgeous department stores through which most of the wine in South Korea is sold, and host a lovely, intimate dinner at another Hyundai Department Store location:

Consumer dinner in Seoul

I came away from my visit with a new appreciation for the work that goes on behind the scenes in helping a region thrive. California wineries, whether they are members or not, all benefit from the tireless promotional work that the Wine Institute does. Looking at their 2024 calendar is eye-opening, with events in 14 countries this year as well as programs that bring sommeliers, retailers, media, and importers to California to experience our wine country as well as ongoing promotion to spread the word about what's going on here to the world. Similarly, the amount of work that the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance team put in to make this tour happen was enormous, and the fact that it went off without a hitch a testament to their planning. I love this photo, of the four people most responsible for the tour's success. Clockwise from left, Joel Peterson, PRWCA Executive Director, Chris Taranto, PRWCA Communications Director, Hiro Tejima, Wine Institute Joint Regional Director, North Asia and Australasia, and Madoka Ogiya, Wine Institute Joint Regional Director, North Asia and Australasia:

PRWCA & CWI brain trust

It's important to get out into the broader world in order to realize that while Paso Robles has made great strides in recognition domestically, when it come to international markets we're still just getting started. Very few of the knowledgeable and worldly guests I met on the trip had ever visited Paso Robles, and the majority didn't know where it was or what made it special. Now there are thousands more members of the wine trade in Japan and South Korea who've been exposed to Paso Robles, and you can feel it rippling out from there. I came away inspired by the potential of both markets and with a new appreciation for all the work that goes on behind the scenes in making this possible.

Thank you, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. Thank you, Wine Institute.