Chapter 6: The Martini Marathon

Chapter 6. The Martini Marathon

After contracts are signed the producers of famous brands often travel to Japan to meet with the importers for the formal launching of their products. When Sanraku’s clients visited corporate headquarters, Suzuki promoted the image that Sanraku was a sophisticated company with an expertise in marketing foreign wine while possessing well-established sales and distribution channels. There were media events, elegant meals at French and Italian restaurants and traditional Japanese inns, sight-seeing tours throughout Japan and market tours of retailers located in key cities to show how Sanraku was planning to market their clients’ products. Suzuki personified a Japanese CEO who was urbane, literate and well- versed in Western consumer culture.

A few weeks after the Beaujolais Nouveau crisis elaborate preparations were underway for a visit by Louis Martini and his wife Elizabeth for a series of seminars regarding the new vintages of Louis Martini wine. The Sanraku sales offices in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka arranged seminars to be presented by Louis Martini to the wine trade, including restaurants, bars, department stores and liquor shops where Sanraku’s business was the strongest.

Louis Martini Vineyards was one of Napa Valley’s oldest and most revered family-owned wineries that had been established by Louis Martini’s father in 1933 in anticipation of the end of the Prohibition. Louis Martini was reputed to be among the top wine makers in California.  Well-recognized for its Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery owned over 900 acres of premium vineyards in the Napa-Sonoma Valley. Considered one of the finest red wines produced in the Napa Valley, my father had served Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon frequently. I was excited about the prospect of meeting Louis, if only briefly, because the wine division kacho in charge of the account was scheduled to accompany him on his tour of Japan. Since I had recently entered the company I was unaware that the kacho was focusing entirely on Markham and, no longer wanting to market the Martini label, he excused himself a week before the Martini’s arrival.

Sanraku was investing considerable capital in replanting vineyards and upgrading Markham’s production facilities in order to produce in record time a Merlot for the Japanese and US markets. The kacho was also involved in the purchase and refurbishment of Chateau Reysson in the Bordeaux. Both purchases were structured by Mr. Suzuki’s wife’s relative who had been given a top position in the finance division. The kacho, by positioning himself with the relative, would be able to forge a new post for himself and, as importantly, escape from corporate headquarters when traveling to California and France.

Even though my job description was to market California wine I was surprised when I was asked to accompany the Martinis so soon after entering Sanraku. But it was a mixed blessing because after the Martini’s arrival I soon realized that there would be substantial pressure to perform well due to high expectations from management. I was determined to receive a five star approval rating so that I could continue to perform similar duties in the future.

When Mr. Martini visited Sanraku in November he had retired as the CEO, leaving his daughter Carolyn to manage operations but remaining as chairman and the figurehead of the winery for several years. It was the Martinis’ first visit to Japan. They stayed at the five-star Imperial Hotel. Sadly, the original building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright had been removed and replaced by a modern structure that was indistinguishable from other hotels in the city but the Martinis were pleased with their accommodation. Prior to arriving at Sanraku, the female kacho who also was to accompany the Martinis on their ten-day visit took them to the Mercian Katsunuma Winery in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Upon their arrival at corporate headquarters, the Martinis were greeted warmly by Suzuki at a press conference organized for the wine trade. After posing with Suzuki for photographs to be used for full-page adverts in liquor magazines, Martini was interviewed by the wine and liquor magazine Wands. I was introduced to Louis and Elizabeth who were delighted to know that my father’s wine cellar was stocked with Martini wines and that I had lived near their home for seven years. Despite the personal connection, I managed to maintain corporate etiquette as a Sanraku staff and was careful not to usurp my superiors, namely the wine director and the woman kacho who had been actively involved in the marketing of wine imports for Sanraku.

I accompanied them with the wine division director and woman kacho for lunch hosted by Mr. Suzuki at an elegant French restaurant which served, at Suzuki’s request, several of the Martini wines being launched on the market. The meal was the first of a number of gastronomic events I attended but since they were related to my duties I was unable enjoy the delicacies. The lunch was the first time I had heard Mr. Suzuki, the kacho and the director speak in English which was passable.

In the afternoon we returned to the office where Martini gave a second interview with the wine publication Vinotheque. In the evening the wine division director played host with the wine division staff at dinner at a fashionable Italian restaurant. The Martinis were suffering from jet lag and deferred the night sightseeing tour of Tokyo until the end of their stay which was fortunate because I had to collect them at 9:30am sharp to take them on a tour of Tokyo department and liquor stores to view how Sanraku was going to market Martini’s six varieties of wine. I had planned to arrive a few minutes early to wait in the lobby for the Martinis when they came down from their room but I was surprised to find them sitting in the lobby awaiting my arrival. I had learned an important lesson; always arrive ten minutes before clients.

We joined members of the wine division for lunch at an Italian restaurant, hosted again by the division director. In the afternoon Mr. Martini gave a lecture to the Japanese Sommelier Association at the Prince Takanawa Hotel where Sanraku had a large account. The lecture was followed by yet another dinner at the hotel served with Louis Martini wine.

On the third day the director and I took Martini to more large department stores to view his wine. The bottles were proudly displayed on the shelves in full view of Japanese wine lovers which both Mr. Martini and I presumed was the way Sanraku intended to market his wine. Afterwards the Martinis and I were driven in a chauffeured black Toyota Crown with a white lace curtain across the rear window not only to shade the passengers from the sun but, also, to indicate that the passengers were either upper management or corporate clients.

We drove around Tokyo and environs for sight-seeing. Since I had previously visited these spots I was able to explain the historic significance. It was also a convenient time to chat about the Napa Valley and California. The Martinis were very curious to know how I got the job and remarked that with my skills I could be successful as a consultant to foreign firms.

The itinerary was well choreographed. Throughout the whirlwind ten-day tour Martini visited a number of department stores and liquor shops to be shown Sanraku’s marketing and distribution strategy. My role was to act as the Martini’s guide and interpreter while the female kacho would interpret at Martini’s seminars during his visits to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka and Kumamoto in Kyushu. I was expected to interpret the branch salesmen’s comments on our visits to various liquor outlets where the Martini wine was launched. Wherever Martini visited, his bottles of wine were on full display on the shelves in front of the bottles of domestic wine, including Mercian.

The Kyoto branch manager hosted a dinner for the Martinis at a traditional Japanese inn where Martini wines were served alongside the traditional sake. Mr. Martini’s six foot four frame towered above the Japanese salesmen and he later confided that he felt awkward removing his shoes before he entered the inn. His shoes, lined in a row with the other diners, looked like a giant’s slippers. He had to bend down to avoid hitting his head on the low beams in the seventeenth century building. When he tried to sit on the usual cushion before the low table in the private dining room he was unable to kneel on his knees in the proper Japanese fashion and sat uncomfortably with his legs stretched out under the table.  Nevertheless, the Martinis enjoyed the elegant Japanese cuisine and the sake.

We stayed at the beautiful Miyako Hotel, an experience I would never have been able to afford. I will always remember the marigold-colored carpets lining the hallways. The kacho and I shared a room and she invited me to join her for a massage but I excused myself because the next day would be an early start for Okayama, the capital of Okayama Prefecture.

The Martinis relished their rides on bullet trains, our primary transport. I joked that it was the only way to fly. We stopped briefly at Okayama Castle and then we were chauffeured part way across the Seto Bridge, which connected Honshu to Shikoku, Japan’s fourth largest island. The bridge was the world’s longest two-tiered bridge with a span for trains and a span for automobiles. There was little traffic, prompting me to explain that the majority of commuters preferred taking the ferry rather than paying the steep bridge toll.

Then it was onto Hiroshima where we visited department stores and liquor outlets. While Mr. Martini was giving a seminar at the Hiroshima Grand Hotel I took Mrs. Martini to Myajima, an island located in the Seto Sea and where the elegant world heritage site of the 1400 year old vermillion lacquered Itsukushima Shinto Shrine looms out of the water. Deer were roaming wild around the island.

In the afternoon we took the bullet train to Fukuoka, Kyushu for the final seminar and an introduction to the Sanraku branch office and visits to liquor outlets. The kacho returned to Tokyo, leaving me to attend the Martinis alone, putting extra pressure on me to ensure that everything that the wine division had arranged was adhered to and that the Martinis enjoyed their trip

On the way to Kumamoto to see Sanraku’s large shochu plant we stopped for a night at a traditional Japanese hot spring resort in Beppu to take the sulphur baths and where an oenologist from Sanraku’s R&D facility in Fujisawa, a town close to Kamakura, met us.  Speaking in excellent English, he took Mr. Martini to the bar to discuss vintages and grape growing while Elizabeth and I took the baths. We emerged later in cotton kimono robes to collect the men for a superb Japanese dinner of stewed wild boar (botan nabe) which is a Kyushu specialty. The oenologist, a lovely gentleman in his forties, took photos of Elizabeth and me in our kimono and invited me to visit him and his family in Odawara, a town near Fujisawa also known for its hot springs. His wife was an accomplished cook and prepared my favorite Japanese dishes when I visited. The oenologist said that he was relieved he did not have to work at corporate headquarters under the watchful eye of upper management.

Corporate headquarters can be high-pressure workplaces because of the monitoring by upper management and high expectations of workers. Branch offices that are located in other cities or preferably in other countries alleviate the pressure from constant scrutiny. The less communication with headquarters, the more independence from corporate regulations. The downside is that the opportunities for promotion in corporations are often based on the ability of staff to forge strong interpersonal relationships with upper management at headquarters.

The next day the oenologist joined the three of us to be chauffeured in the black Crown Prince to Mt. Aso to see the still active volcano. Martini asked for my assessment of the California wine market in Japan. I explained that California wine accounted for only 17 percent of the market in contrast to French wine which accounted for over 30 percent. I emphasized that, altogether, wine consumption comprised only one percent of Japan’s total alcoholic beverage market.

Martini inquired how Sanraku planned to market California wine in general and to promote his brand. I told him that Japanese considered French wine to be more elegant and that preparing a meal to accompany the wine required time and effort. On the other hand, California wine was considered inferior to French wine and this negative image persisted. Our conversation inspired my suggestion that Sanraku publish a small cookbook to promote his brand as an elegant addition to a meal which could be prepared at home on top of the stove within thirty minutes, using inexpensive ingredients that were easily available at the neighborhood market. The cookbook would portray the brand as informally elegant and the cuisine together with Louis Martini wine would transport the housewife and her husband, who had returned home after a stressful day at his office, to sunny California. The cookbook would be distributed to liquor shops and department stores where the Martini brand was being retailed.

Martini and the oenologist enthusiastically supported my proposal. When Martini informed Suzuki at the final meeting with the wine division staff that his company would assume 50 percent of the cost of the cookbook, Suzuki and the wine division staff seemed equally enthusiastic. The go-a-head was exactly what I needed to confirm my position in the wine division or at least this is what I assumed.

Before taking leave of Sanraku, Mr. Martini asked what he could send me to show his appreciation for taking care of him and Elizabeth on the exhausting journey. Without considering the expense, in jest, I requested navel oranges. On 29 December I received at my flat an effusive letter of thanks from Mr. Martini, informing me that the oranges would be delivered in January to my flat. Although he had sent a letter to Mr. Suzuki to express his appreciation for the warm welcome provided him and Mrs. Martini, he understood that a personal letter sent to me at Sanraku would create an uncomfortable situation for me. I rationed myself to one orange a day, savoring each bite.

A Riddle

A week after the Martini’s departure I visited the department stores to check on Martini sales. I was shocked to see that bottle of Louis Martini were tucked behind Mercian wines (labelled Chateau Mercian and Bon Marche) on the shelves and barely visible to shoppers. If Martini’s agent had returned a few weeks following the launch to the department stores and liquor shops in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka, anticipating that he would see bottles of Martini wines on display, he would have been disappointed.

Foreign producers of food and beverages who want to enter the Japanese market may prefer to appoint agents to represent them when contacting prospective importers and to attend negotiations for contracts. The agents may have a number of clients on their roster and scout foreign markets for potential importers. The agents are concerned primarily with the initial stages of entry with the objective of sealing a transaction on behalf of their clients. Large trading companies that have international operations, such as Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Marubeni search for products deemed suitable for the Japanese market and will introduce the producers to importers. However, producers of name-brand products will contact importers directly or will be contacted by importers who manufacture similar goods and who can offer not only distribution and sales channels but also marketing expertise.

Martini’s agent while representing the American beef industry also acted as the agent for other California wineries. At his annual meeting with the Sanraku wine division to discuss the sales for 1990 and future sales for FY 1991, he was informed that the stock of Louis Martini wine was no longer sufficient to support the increasing sales of California wine and that Sanraku was expanding its California presence in the market. Perhaps aware that Martini’s price and quality were comparable to the soon-to-be released Markham merlot, the agent offered to introduce his California clients whose wines were cheaper. Or perhaps the agent was unaware that Sanraku’s Mercian wines, which were cheaper than both Martini and Markham, were also competitive with California brands and were receiving the star treatment.

Clearly, Sanraku’s marketing strategy for foreign wines was secondary to the promotion of its domestic brands. It was obvious that key to Suzuki’s objectives was to upgrade the Mercian brand image and ‘cost merit’ by strengthening its Mercian network overseas and establishing the quality controlled Mercian wine within the imported wine market. Nevertheless, this strategy was puzzling because of the comments from the department store liquor department managers revealed that consumers considered the Mercian brand as inferior. Suntory was ranked as the superior producer of domestic wine and whose imports were top of the market. I suspected that Sanraku was planning to eventually replace Martini with Markham due to the similarity in quality and price. I tentatively suggested to the wine division director that until Markham’s wines were mature, which would take several more years, Sanraku should consider continuing to import Martini wines to bridge the gap. Although Sanraku wanted to expand its portfolio of California wines, I guessed that the price range would be lower than that of Markham and Martini. Nevertheless, Sanraku’s marketing strategy of foreign brands simultaneously promoted and protected its domestic products.

Trial by Fire: cookbook hell

scanjob_20160727_153737-1The wine division had been caught by surprise when Martini announced his desire for me to design a small cookbook in Japanese. Since the cookbook had been authorized and Louis Martini was footing over half of the bill the wine division director and female kacho were compelled to comply despite the competition with Markham. But their enthusiasm dwindled after Martini returned to California, leaving me to push the project alone. Staff did not expect that the book would ever be completed. But I was committed.

Sanraku’s marketing budget had traditionally included setting up booths at various trade fairs and exhibitions for the wine trade in areas where Sanraku’s sales offices were located. Sanraku joined with other wine producers for wine tasting events for its retail clients to plug Sanraku’s most recent imports and domestic blends. Similar to other liquor producers, Sanraku also published print adverts in trade publications and popular magazines for both its domestic and imported brands. However, other types of promotion were rarely considered. Generally, Japan’s two largest advertising companies, Dentsu and Hakuhodo, engaged in the majority of projects for Sanraku but the kacho introduced me to the director of small marketing firm, which, as I was to discover, had little experience in the promotion of foreign products.

The budget allotted for the cookbook allowed for only the services of this small firm to assist me in the planning and implementation of the cookbook. The kacho participated at the initial session in mid-January when I discussed with the firm’s manager the cookbook’s objectives. I had understood that the company would provide the layout, arrange for the photo shoot and that I would compose the recipes and personal greeting from Elizabeth Martini in Japanese and provide the food for the photo shoot. I explained at the meeting that the theme would be California and that the recipes would be ostensibly Mrs. Martini’s. The preparation time for the simple and uncomplicated meals would be no longer than thirty minutes so that wives could relax with their husbands and friends over a glass of Louis Martini wine and enjoy the meal as well. In reality, the dishes were based on my recipes which I had prepared often for my friends and husband on two gas burners. Electricity bills were still high, making ovens a luxury for many who preferred small microwaves. The meals were to be accompanied with a salad and rice or bread and coordinated with a specific Martini wine. With the exception of one dish, the ingredients would be void of meat because beef, due to the import quotas and tariffs, was too expensive for household budgets and lamb from Australia and New Zealand was still unpopular.

Two-weeks passed before the second meeting with the firm. I was appalled that the layout did not resemble anything that I had requested and clearly the firm’s staff like most Japanese had never been to California and perceived the state in the context of a Disneyland and a Fisherman’s Wharf. Although a cheap option, the firm was unsophisticated and totally out of its depth and I realized that if I did not take a hands-on approach the cookbook would never materialize. Complimenting them on their efforts I suggested that in order to expedite matters I would design the layout since I was from California and was familiar with many regions besides Disneyland. It was the first time that I designed a layout for a cookbook that I had presumed would serve as a prototype which Sanraku could use for other imported wines and for Markham. I was determined to keep my promise to the Martinis and, also, to expand my job description in order to illustrate to a future employer, hopefully the USTR, that my responsibilities were relevant to the position’s criteria.

Since Japanese imagined French cuisine as elegant and California cuisine as McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken I struggled to find a cost-effective way to change the image, or, at least, to attempt to change the image. I managed to source from a photo library scenes of stately homes located in US, most of them in California, to insert at the top of each page devoted to a main dish.

A month had passed since the initial meeting. The promotion firm sent me copies of the recipes to proof read but there were numerous errors which needed correcting. I was introduced to the cooking school where the photo shoot was scheduled to discuss in detail the logistics of preparing the dishes for the shoot and the table settings for each dish. I planned to purchase the ingredients on the day of the shoot. All was going smoothly until the big day.

I managed to purchase the ingredients with the exception of sliced roast beef and bagels for the picnic scene. I finally found the beef at one large department store but there were no bagels in sight. The photo shoot was due to take place in the late afternoon and time was of the essence. A last ditch effort for sourcing bagels at Takashimaya in Nihonbashi was successful. I scurried across Tokyo, a forty minute train ride, to the cooking school to find that some of the school’s cutlery and crockery were unsuitable. I galloped to a department store in the area to source cups and other accoutrements, which delayed production by several hours.

The preparation of the dishes and the layout of the food went well but the roast beef I had purchased four hours earlier was turning brown under the hot lights, I knew that the beef would turn even darker but there was no time to go across town to purchase more. A bottle of Louise Martini wine was placed beside each of the five dishes. The five bottles of the wine were photographed for the final page.

Another week passed before I received the color photographs of the dishes on the table settings according to plan. A few days later I received mock-ups of the book in black-and-white to which I made corrections and returned to the agency. The following week I received a colored mock-up of the cookbook and showed it to the kacho, expecting her to be very satisfied with the results. But she merely pointed to one of the bottles of wine pictured on the final page stating that the label had been recently changed. Aghast that she had not informed me, I immediately contacted the agency to request a second photograph. Another week passed.

The kacho was sitting across the desk from me when the one thousand copies of the cookbook were delivered to her one afternoon in March. Spotting her as she quickly put them under the table. Unable to contain my delight, I asked if I could look at them. Reluctantly, she handed the cookbooks to me. I realized later that she may have expected to take the credit for producing the first piece of promotional material that exceeded flyers or brochures or single page print adverts or, perhaps, she had been ordered not to distribute material that promoted an import which Sanraku did not want to promote. Since Martini shared fifty percent of the budget the bill was only $1000 per one thousand copies or ten cents per copy.

I requested that the cookbooks be distributed as soon as possible to the Sanraku branch offices. I also contacted Sanraku’s branch managers to tell them to expect delivery of the cookbooks. My previous meeting with them facilitated our communication and they seemed as enthusiastic as I was. The little book proved so popular that within six months a reprint was ordered and one thousand copies were distributed again. The Martinis were very pleased and asked for copies to be sent to their winery for Japanese tourists. Elizabeth wrote to me that a Japanese woman tourist burst into tears of joy when she saw the cookbook, claiming that no other winery she had visited had offered literature designed just for Japanese. Sadly, the cookbook was regarded as material suitable for only one winery and not for marketing other brands, which was an expense that perhaps during the bubble years Sanraku could justify.

The endeavor for producing a seven page promotional cookbook had taken a gruelling three months and I was out the office much of the time. I was careful to conceal my relief at having accomplished the assignment as best that could be expected with the support available. Nevertheless, without considering my hard labour, some of the staff resented the fact that they were unable to escape headquarters as well. I became conscious of a latent jealously among colleagues who had been at Sanraku far longer than I and whose salaries were lower than mine. A few may have mistakenly entertained the notion that I would usurp their position in the wine division. I was simply trying to survive.

What’s Really Cooking? Gustav Adolph Schmitt wants the cat but Sanraku doesn’t

Rudolph Schmitt, the CEO of the German wine maker Gustav Adolph Schmitt, which was established in the seventeenth century, visited the wine division in 1990 to discuss improving promotional methods for his new brands that Sanraku was launching on the market. Since the wine had been in the wine division’s portfolio since the 1970s Schmitt was candid about his concerns about his brand’s position amidst the rapid addition of other brands. The discussion focused on the design of a label and the promotion of a new Liebfraumilch. Mrs. Schmitt who also attended the meeting mentioned that she owned cats.

Conveniently forgetting the trials of the Martini cookbook, I suggested a black cat on the label and promotion of the wine by naming the cat and producing a serial cartoon based on the cat’s travels to Japan, an affair with a geisha cat and a violent encounter with a band of wild cats.  I also suggested that she send family recipes for a small cook booklet. She sent recipes while I composed names for the cat as well as a draft of the story-line for the cartoon. Some of the names I suggested were Tommy, Hans, Victor, Kristof, Amos and Rudi. Since the Japanese enjoyed animal adventure tales I recommended ‘The Adventures of Rudi.” Unbeknownst to my colleagues I tacked on my mother-in-law’s family name to Rudi’s last name:

Born of royal blood (house of Von Springer) Rudi is the oldest of six kittens.

Episodes 1-3: Childhood

Episodes 4: teenage and young adulthood (i.e. playboy era)

Episode 5:.Courtship and introduction of fiancé: Lily, Marlene, Margit, Christina, Gabby

I recommended a three-year campaign.

I also suggested that Mr. Suzuki appear in magazine adverts on behalf of the label. Mr. Schmitt enthusiastically endorsed my recommendations. However, after Schmitt returned to Germany, the wine division became less positive. The director of the wine division requested that I send a letter on his behalf to Schmitt thanking him for his marketing suggestions which he found very interesting. He requested that Mr. Schmitt send him further details. The promotion did not progress beyond the preliminary stage.