1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background and your current role?
I was born and raised in Chiba, Japan. I moved to the US to attend school at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and then moved to Chicago, IL to attend DePaul University where I received my master’s degree in music composition.
In Chicago, I worked in several high-end restaurants, which included Japanese and Chinese cuisines, and was recruited to work at Southern Wine and Spirits as a Sake Specialist. From then on I’ve been working on the distribution side, and relocated to Las Vegas, NV in 2014 to work for what would become Breakthru Beverage. Throughout my time working as a distributor I continually pursued my beverage education, receiving various certifications, and I am currently an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and have received WSET Level 3 Awards in both Sake and Wine. I am an instructor for the WSET Level 1 and 3 Awards in Sake, and in 2019 I was a finalist, representing the United States, for the 5th World Kikisake-Shi (sake sommelier) Competition in Tokyo, Japan.
2. Why did you choose this industry and what do you love about it?
While working in restaurants I began to really enjoy the culture and became more interested in wine especially. I think my work ethic and my deepening interest must have been noticeable, because eventually I was recruited by Southern to become a Sake Specialist. So, I guess combine that with being in the right place at the right time.
What I love about working with wine and sake is how deep the culture is. It’s not just the end product, but the history and cultural contexts. The process of making these beverages is fascinating. I think I’m drawn to the craft mindset in general. Like music, my original pursuit, it’s the combination of being both technical and creative.
3. What challenges have you experienced in your profession in 2020?
Like so many, I was furloughed for 5 months. It’s one thing when a particular area or region experiences a natural disaster or something similar that affects an economy, but it was truly frightening when not only the whole country, but the whole world is experiencing the same issue. So, it wasn’t like I could find a new job in the industry somewhere else. Never considering the idea that I might have to start a whole new career one day was something I took for granted.
Like many of us, I tried to stay involved in the industry, through increasing my networking, participating in social media streams and podcasts, and continuing to work with my study groups. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to have been called back, though for a different position and pay. But I count myself as lucky, and so many of my friends and colleagues are still struggling.
4. What are some of your favorite and comforting wine/wine region/pairing?
Sherry! My husband and I love pairing dry sherry, Fino or Manzanilla, with Spanish cheese and chorizo, and we often add tomato bread with white anchovies.
5. Any advice for aspiring industry candidates?
What’s worked for me is finding a place I wanted to work, and then taking whatever was available, even if it was not the role I ultimately wanted. You can work your way up, and you’ll learn so much and develop the relationships on the way.
People who work hard and stay humble don’t go unnoticed. Hang in there!
6. Please share an anecdotal moment that you will never forget!
When we were driving from Chicago to move to Vegas, we planned to visit Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, CO on the way. I had heard so many great things about the restaurant and their hospitality, and I wanted to experience it firsthand. It was in early May and we drove down from South Dakota through a snowstorm. It took so much longer than we expected from the weather delay. We had to push back the reservation a few times through the night. When we finally made it to the restaurant, Bobby Stucky, Master Sommelier and partner of the restaurant, gave us a warm welcome and he thanked us for braving the weather and not giving up.
I will never forget the hospitality he and his team showed us that night, and they made the experience special, one of our most memorable.
7. Is there anything else you would like to share or mention?
Recently there’s been much needed attention brought regarding the lack of diversity, gender inequality, and even sexual harassment in our industry broadly, but especially within wine and wine education.
I’m optimistic that, thanks to the efforts of brave people, we are making some progress.
In the mean time, I’m seeing some people withdrawing from wine education, and I want to encourage those interested in furthering their education to continue, and not to become deterred.
The community is overwhelmingly made up of caring of loving people who only want to see others succeed.
Aya: "The process of making Wine and Sake is fascinating. Like music, my original pursuit, it’s the combination of being both technical and creative. "