Sake Changed Rebekah Wilson-Lye’s Life
Tokyo-based sake expert and International Wine Challenge (IWC) judge, New Zealander Rebekah Wilson-Lye is one of three central figures in Kampai! Sake Sisters, a documentary about women in the sake industry. Wilson-Lye is also a chief organiser of Craft Sake Week, which takes place 19-29 April in Roppongi Hills.
The self-labelled “sake maniac” took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with English-language magazine Metropolis about Japan’s quintessential drink, its fall and revival on the global stage and why women are at the forefront of the new wave.
Having grown up in New Zealand, Wilson-Lye had always enjoyed wine. Her love affair with sake, an alcoholic beverage made with fermented rice, began much later in life. She had just moved to Izu-Nitta – a “tumble in the countryside” of Shizuoka Prefecture – to teach English after living in Seoul for two years. At the staff welcoming party, a co-worker handed Wilson-Lye a glass of world-renowned Isojiman.
“That sake changed my life,” Wilson-Lye says. “It had this amazing aroma of melon and banana and apple. When I tried it, it had the most beautiful crystalline expression and delicate sweetness and complexity, and a beautiful finish.”
Wilson-Lye is an unlikely heroine of an age-old industry traditionally run by Japanese men. Largely self-taught, she entered the world of sake “through the back door” by attending tasting events and conversing with her favourite brewers before becoming an expert in the trade. She’s now a certified educator, and judge in the IWC sake competition.
Currently the head of international marketing and PR at Japan Craft Sake Company, she works alongside Hidetoshi Nakata – a soccer star turned sake ambassador – to spread the word about sake’s potential at home and abroad.
For Wilson-Lye, sake is not just a drink; it’s an entire culture. A conversation with her doesn’t consist of spouting technicalities of how sake is made or what the best brands are. While facts are important, stories are what truly capture a person’s heart. The community that surrounds each sip – a region’s terrain and climate, people and their legacy – drives the narrative of sake, and these are the stories that she continues to tell.
Original article by Camille Miller, Metropolis, April 19, 2019.