A few months back, I was up in Yoichi, Hokkaido, to lend a hand with the annual grape harvest. One evening, I found myself at Gangara, an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub) known for its selection of local wine sold only by the bottle. I was dining solo and didn’t quite have it in me to polish off a whole bottle, so as I was about to leave, I offered what was left to a nearby table, and one of the diners was kind enough to offer me a glass of something in return.

As we got to chatting, I realized he was none other than Toru Takamatsu, who, at 24, became the youngest-ever master sommelier — the highest certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) — and the first Japanese person to achieve that rank.

The following day, I saw Takamatsu, now 28, in his element at the renowned Domaine Takahiko winery, where he is currently learning the craft of winemaking. This got me thinking: Why would a master sommelier make the move from working the floors of Michelin-starred restaurants, and the salary that commands, to the hands-on life of an apprentice winemaker? And why pick Yoichi of all places?