At first, Bruce Gutlove thought a friend was pulling his leg.

It was the late 1980s, and Gutlove was a Napa Valley wine consultant. On the phone, however, was a representative of Coco Farm & Winery, a fledgling operation in Japan — a country he had no connection to. They were asking him to fly over and teach them winemaking.

“I didn’t even know they made wine in Japan,” Gutlove recalls. “When I realized this was for real, I said, ‘Wine — you mean from grapes?’”