Where so many fictional movies that explore wine have failed, Drops of God which is an eight-part series inspired by the New York Times bestselling Japanese graphic novel (manga) series has set the bar for its depiction of wine culture and sensorial appreciation.
Originally created and written by Tadashi Agi and illustrated by Shu Okimoto, the manga series was adapted for Apple TV by Quoc Dang Tran and executive produced by Klaus Zimmermann with the collaboration of Sébastien Pradal, a career sommelier whose depth of experience defined the role wine plays in this tense family drama.
Pradal is general manager and owner of a handful of companies that import and distribute fine French wines to the trade in Paris, France, and Mexico, and the restaurant La Petite Régalade and sister bistronomie La Pascade which offer a wine list reflective of both his access and focus on smaller organic and biodynamic producers. Add vigneron to his many roles as he is a partner in Domaine Montrozier which lies directly north of Narbonne in the Côtes de Millau AOP.
As wine consultant to the fictional series which was four years in the making, Pradal’s experience gave him what amounts to a no nonsense-approach to determining how the lead characters – Camille who is played by Fleur Geffrier and Issei played by Tomohisa Yamashita – would interact with wine as the series unfolds.
Wine is just one of the many themes being explored in the tri-lingual storyline told in French, Japanese, and English which pits Camille against Issei in a competition like no other. Camille had not seen her father the iconic Alexandre Léger, author of the famous Léger Wine Guide, since her parents separated when she was nine years old. Upon his death, she is unceremoniously thrust into his world when she flies to Tokyo for the reading of his will which will determine the fate of Léger’s 87,000-bottle wine collection reputedly the finest in the world and valued at $148,000,000. To claim the inheritance, Camille must compete with Issei, Léger’s star pupil, in a winner take all duel that challenges their senses and their wits in three tests involving wine.
In a phone interview conducted mid-way through the airing of the series, I asked Pradal about his approach to the monumental task of making fiction both believable and enjoyable given the inevitable scrutiny of the wine trade.
DPW: How did you arrive at the valuation of the Léger cellar at $148,000,000?
SP: First, let’s establish that the story is fiction but at the onset of the project we began by averaging the prices of the bottles depicted in the cellar at about $2,000 per bottle. Léger had been collecting for 40 years and his collection included bottles easily valued at $30,000 to $40,000. Five years ago, one bottle of the DRC Romanee Conti 1945 (only 600 bottles were produced) was auctioned for over $500,000  so this is very possible.
(Editor’s note: A summary of the 12 wines featured in the manga series can be found here – https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2023/05/12-wines-that-featured-in-the-drops-of-god/)
DPW: As she is Léger’s daughter, Camille could benefit from having his genes whereas Issei is presented as a product of academic wine study under his tutelage. When it comes to their ability to decode the aromas and tastes of the wines, is this a case of nature versus nurture?
SB: I can’t speak to genetics but of all the people I know who excel in this area, it boils down to a lot of hard work. In real life, you have to work to be good; there is no substitute for training but it’s more about directing a part of the brain. In doing so, you can sometimes identify a wine. It’s like when you meet someone and you have a visceral reaction to them, to their pheromones. We don’t understand it but there is something deep inside us, some part of our reptilian brain that we don’t consciously exploit.
DPW: When it comes to the language of wine, do you think early exposure to wine provides an advantage versus coming to wine through academic study as an adult?
SB: Absolutely, I do think it helps. I teach wine occasionally and I ask my team to image what they smell. If it’s strawberry it’s a fuzzy memory of the aroma of strawberry that may remind you of your grandmother’s strawberry jam. It’s a combination of all the things you learn over the course of your life with all the smells you can memorize. Together they help you recall aromas.
DPW: We learn early on that Camille suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to her early experiences with wine. This seems like a tremendous handicap as she prepares to compete with Issei.
SB: Yes, initially she suffers from PTSD but it’s helping her later in the competition. This state is what takes her to synesthesia and enables her to perceive a flavor as a color. When she finally comes to terms with it, she finds another level of perception. Both Quoc and Klaus wanted her to have superpowers, and this is her path.
DPW: Most viewers will be attracted to the show because it’s a dramatic story of love, deception, and competition but what are a few examples of how the characters interact with wine?
SP: A close observer will see the moments when the characters do what professionals actually do in real life. A winemaker may not bother to cut the capsule from the neck of the bottle as a sommelier would, they will twist the capsule intact from the bottle. You can see Fleur’s behavior evolve as she gains more confidence; she learns to hold the glass properly, to practice a consistent technique for tasting, and her visualization of the wine evolves as well. Tomo’s character Issei is a robot.
DPW: Fleur’s visualization process reminded me of the method of loci or memory palace, an ancient visualization technique developed by the Greeks and Romans. Was this used as a model for her character’s behavior?
SB: That material came from the writers after observing me taste wine. They saw that my eyes move around as if I’m searching. They decided the library was the best way of illustrating the process of her searching for and locating her memories.
DPW: What is it that you liked best about this project?
SB: I saw this as the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the audience what wine is, what it can be; a link to our humanity, to the earth, our history, and to the economy. I began in food and wine as a cook, and then a waiter, and eventually a sommelier. This project presented itself to me as a crazy gift when I was asked to coach Tomo, Luca and Fleur whose father was a cook from Aveyron where my winery is located. Now that it’s completed, I’m content with the work that we did together, and I hope that people enjoy it.