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Reiko Tsukamoto

by Vivienne Kenrick

The vineyards of Yamanashi excel as Japan’s oldest and most successful wine producing districts. Canopies of grapevines spread across Yamanashi land, where sunshine, rainfall, the seasons and soil get together to bring on the growth of high quality grapes.

Under a different name the Lumiere Wine Co. began here in 1885. It was nearly 100 years later when Reiko married owner Toshihiko Tsukamoto, and added a new dimension in imagination and business flair to this leading producer of fine wines.

Reiko had no more than a layperson’s knowledge of wine until, a widow, she married for the second time. She had spent her girlhood by the sea in Shizuoka Prefecture, coming after high school to Tokyo to enter Aoyama Gakuin University and concentrate on English. “I wanted to be independent,” she said. “After graduation I joined a business company and stayed for several years in its office. My grandmother, who was ill, wanted to see me married. My husband was a lawyer specializing in international comparative law. We went to live in Aichi Prefecture.”

The couple had two children, and traveled frequently, mostly to Europe. They moved in sophisticated circles. They had been married 20 years when Reiko’s husband died.

By the time Reiko came into the business, Lumiere was highly reputed, the winner of several international contests. Her husband, with several years of overseas residence behind him to support his expertise, was a wine connoisseur. He claimed health benefits from wine consumption. Believing that wine in Japan and its history were not well enough recognized, Reiko set herself to make them better known.

She began by organizing the Club Lumiere, which offered dinners with carefully selected wines. Naturally keen on cooking, she also began to give classes that emphasized the use of wine vinegar in cooking. “Wine vinegar,” she said, “works a secret magic in cooking, and in health.”

She studied. She learned of quality in grapes, and procedures for ensuring continuance of quality. She became familiar with year-round rituals and techniques, with vintages, cellars, bottles and corks. Her husband was made a permanent judge for the Ljubljana International Wine Contest. The late Prince Takamado and Princess Takamado helped celebrate both the 110th and the 115th company anniversaries. In 1996, Lumiere red wine was served at the national dinner in honor of U.S. President Bill Clinton. Two years later, Toshihiko Tsukamoto became a member of the Bordeaux Wine Academy. Lumiere’s stone wine tank, the first in Japan made in the European style, was designated a National Tangible Cultural Property.

In these circumstances, Reiko frequently met wine experts in other countries, and developed friendships with them and with chateau owners. She invited guests to her Yamanashi winery, preparing for them food that made lavish use of Lumiere’s wine products. Hospitality was her pleasure as she sought in her Japanese way to infuse each lunch and dinner with spirit, taste, fragrance and atmosphere.

Reiko branched off to make the business of wine vinegar her own particular project. She sought assistance from the Tokyo Agriculture University. She published a book, “The Magic of Wine Vinegar,” for which Princess Takamado wrote the preface. Now she has 11 different brands of Lumiere’s wine vinegar on the market, labeled according to their years of production.

Her next original idea was to make a nonalcoholic drink based on wine vinegar. She said: “Strict traffic regulations don’t allow drivers to drink and drive. So I launched Hibiscus Shower and Citron Shower, that are nonalcoholic. Both of these are popularly served now in hotels and restaurants.”

Chateau Lumiere continues to receive honors, and its owner rewards. The French Union of Oenology approved Lumiere as the top wine company in Asia, and Tsukamoto became the first Japanese winemaker to receive the Order of Merit from the French government.

Reiko says that wine is her foremost life interest. “I want to expand fruit culture, for wine and wine vinegar,” she said. “The way we cultivate fruit in Japan is typically ours, and original. Crossing European and Japanese methods is now going to be my most exciting project.”