Kenzo Tsujimoto, founder and chairman of game maker Capcom Co., sees similarities in managing the game business and one of his recent interests: wine-making.
The 68 year-old’s private business passed a milestone last year as it launched the first vintages from his winery in Napa, Calif., in the fall.
The first shipment — 600 cases — sold out quickly. Buyers included upscale restaurants, including Koju, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza district.
Just as talented game makers are essential for developing hit games, having good “terroir,” or geographical characteristics, is just as crucial for making wine, Tsujimoto said. Terroir, which encompasses everything from a vineyard’s soil to its regional weather conditions, bestows various flavors and other characteristics upon the wines made there.
Tsujimoto joined hands with prominent winemaker Heidi Barrett and vineyard manager David Abreu for his wine-making venture, spending ¥10 billion of his own money.
“People who make games are our creators. I try to get the best talents there are and make an effort to develop a fine product with them. In that sense, wine and games are the same,” Tsujimoto said.
Tsujimoto nurtured Capcom into an enterprise with annual revenues of more than ¥80 billion in one generation. After graduating from high school in Nara Prefecture, he spent his early days working in the wholesaling business for small food retailers but changed jobs after determining that the approach of supermarkets was affecting the business. He eventually left his hometown for Osaka and jumped into the entertainment industry.
Tsujimoto began by leasing games imported from the United States and Europe, including pinball machines, to small candy stores. Later, he hitched a ride on the Space Invaders boom in the late 1970s, when video games took off.
“Video games went over big, and the transition from analog to digital took place . . . and Japan was strong at it, and took its turn selling (digital games) to the United States and Europe,” he said.
In 1983, when Tsujimoto was 42, he set up Capcom, which went on to develop the blockbuster video game titles “Street Fighter” and “Biohazard,” which was made into a Hollywood film starring actress Milla Jovovich.
The company’s most recent hit is “Monster Hunter,” a role-playing game that allows the player to team up with up to three other hunters online in search of monsters.
In 1990, Capcom’s U.S. unit bought a large chunk of Napa real estate, including a struggling equestrian club Tsujimoto later bought in private to prevent it from dragging down the Capcom group.
He eventually decided to turn the property into a vineyard. “When some materials are given, it’s in my nature to think of how I can make the most of them,” he said.
His vineyard began producing grapes in 1998 and bore its first fruit in 2001. But Tsujimoto abandoned all 120,000 grape vines and started all over again after Abreu, his vineyard manager, told him he could do better.
“I listen to the advice of top-class people,” he said. “(The development of) games is also full of re-creations.”
After spending several more years developing the grapes, Tsujimoto and his team finally produced their first wines in 2008.
Tsujimoto fell back on his Japanese roots to find original names for the wines.
“Most of our games are totally original, such as music, characters, stories . . . so we do not have to bother about copyright,” he said.
Tsujimoto selected three Japanese words suggesting the colors of the wines: “ai” (indigo), “murasaki” (purple) and “rindo” (gentians, or Japanese bellflowers). The bottles from the first vintage were wrapped in “furoshiki” (wrapping cloths) and packaged in a wooden box.
Ai, a cabernet sauvignon, goes for ¥15,000. Murasaki and Rindo — blends of cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot — are priced at ¥7,500. There is also Asatsuyu (Morning Dew), a sauvignon blanc, for ¥5,000.
People tend to become more picky when the economy is bad, Tujimoto said, but “as long as we release good products, I am confident that they will sell even during the current problems.”
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