Ida, Okushiri Island's only sommelier, popularizing wine on island

Ida Kengo is the only Okushiri Island resident with sommelier certification. He commented, "I want to popularize wine in Okushiri"

Ida Kengo (28) is the eldest son of Ida Yoshinao (58), owner of the sushi restaurant “Kyouzushi” on Okushiri Island in Southern Hokkaido. Kengo stands at the front of his family’s restaurant, hard at work as the island’s only sommelier. He is spreading the word about the wonders of wine through efforts like creating pamphlets summarizing basic wine information and recommending sushi that matches wines to customers. The fisherman town of Okushiri has always mainly consumed sake and shochu, but Kengo is trying to introduce something new here, “I want to make wine more popular in Okushiri.”

After graduating from high school on the island, Kengo worked at two Italian restaurants in Tokyo for a total of up to seven years. In the course of serving customers, there were many opportunities to explain wine flavor and the best meal pairings, and Kengo naturally developed an interest in wine. After returning home, he decided to acquire sommelier certification. After studying on his own for about a year, he passed the certification exam at 26 years of age.

He made a pamphlet listing basic information about wine in order to spread a deeper understanding of wine, and places a pamphlet on each table along with the menu. The pamphlet introduces famous wine aromas and types, pairings with food, etc. When serving customers, he introduces good sushi and wine combinations like, “White wine goes well with sea bream sushi,” and is reportedly garnering excellent praise from customers.

Remote island wineries are rare even on a nationwide scale, and the restaurant serves wine from just such a facility in the form of Okushiri Wine, from the island’s own winery. It is popular among tourists. The wine is produced from grapes cultivated amidst the sea breeze, and is said to emit the mildly salty fragrance of the waves when imbibed. Kengo displayed his love for this local wine, “The great thing about it is, you can feel the sensation of the Okushiri ocean in the comfort of your own home.”

Kengo’s goal is to study in Italy to build up chef training. He expressed his dream, “I mainly served customers at the Tokyo restaurants, so next I want to cultivate cooking skills.”