By Li-Mei Russell
Yukino Ochiai has been named as the first Australian woman to be given the highest honour in the international sake industry.
The Japan Sake Brewers Association (JSBA) has appointed sake distributor, Deja Vu Sake Co’s owner and respected sake educator, Yukino Ochiai as Australia’s first female Sake Samurai.
Women hold only 30 of the 800 chairs within the JSBA Junior Council. In this way, Ochiai will become the 16th woman awarded with Samurai status in an industry where women are significantly underrepresented.
“Lots of women are coming into the industry and they’re doing a fantastic job, I’m honoured to be one of them,” said Ochiai.
“Regardless of gender I work in the industry because I love the product and I’m proud to promote the traditions from my home country.”
JSBA Junior Council only appoints a handful of nominated individuals to Samurai status each year and as of today only 70 people hold the title worldwide.
The Samurai title is the highest honour in the industry and only four sake ambassadors (SA) were inaugurated alongside Ochiai during this year’s ceremony at Kyoto’s Matsunoo-taisha shrine.
The award, established in 2005, gives recognition to individuals who champion the culture and identity of sake in Japan and global markets.
Ochiai is the third Australian to receive Samurai distinction, following the appointments of Sydney chef Tetsuya Wakuda in 2007 and SA Andre Bishop in 2013.
Japanese-born Ochiai established her company Deja Vu in 2012 with her husband Andrew Cameron, inspired by a vision to introduce boutique and small-batch Japanese sake to Australia. Within five short years in business the company has asserted itself as a leading importer of Japanese sake as well as other famed Japanese exports including whisky and shochu.
In addition to Deja Vu’s work in the promotion of the product in the Australian market, Ochiai has become the first Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certified sake educator in Australia.
In 2016 Ochiai was one of 50 experts from around the world and one of only two from Australia to be invited as a judge at the 10th annual International Wine Challenge Sake Competition held in Japan.
“Yukino is generating huge amounts of enthusiasm in the Australian market and there is a growing buzz around sake in Australasia thanks to her tireless work and energy,” said Master of Wine, and New Zealand’s first awarded Samurai, Sam Harrop.
“She has taken sake to the mainstream in one of the most influential and opinionated wine markets in the world.”
Ochiai says she wants to make the iconic and traditional to drink more accessible to the Australian public.
“Our dream at Deja vu is to make sake approachable to everyone,” says Ochiai.
“I want Australians to be able to drink sake outside of Japanese restaurants, like at home with a slice of pizza.”