Koji Nakada and Park Jae-hwa make an unusual pair in the French village of Gevrey-Chambertin, in Burgundy. Not only are they rare Asian faces, their line of business comes as a surprise - the couple stand out as Asian negociants, producing and selling wine in the heart of French wine country. Their firm, Lou Dumont, buys not only wine from small producers to market under its label, but also grapes from small vineyards that Nakada transforms into wine. 'I make wine that I love. Since I'm Asian, there's something Asian about it,' says 37-year-old Nakada. Set up in 2000, Lou Dumont quickly found success. It acquired celebrity status in Japan and South Korea after its 2003 Meursault was featured in the ninth series of the cult manga Kami no Shizuku (The Drops of God), about the adventures of two sons of a wine critic racing to identify 12 legendary vintages. Orders poured in and the Meursault sold out within three months. Even so, Nakada struggled to finding his footing in the French winemaking industry. 'Burgundy is very closed. They don't accept foreigners easily,' he says. When he started, rumours went round that he was part of the Japanese mafia and many vineyards refused to work with him. 'Gradually, they realised that I was professional and paid on time,' he says. Nakada's journey to Burgundy began when, at 18, he started working at a French restaurant in Tokyo to finance his law studies. 'I chose a restaurant because I thought I'd at least get to eat. And I hadn't tasted French food.' The wine appealed more than the food and, six years later, Nakada qualified as a sommelier. That was when he decided to go to France to learn how to make wine. It was at a French language class in Dijon that he met Park, a former history lecturer from Pusan who had decided to study art restoration in France. The pair hit it off instantly and soon Nakada was dragging her to wine tastings and explaining to her the difference between sauvignon blanc and semillon. 'I hadn't really drunk alcohol before that. But through Koji, I learnt that wine is not just alcohol but a culture,' says Park. Nakada completed a winemaking course at the University of Dijon and earned a master's in oenology at the CFFPA vocational college in Beaune. Internships took him to different regions of France, but he returned to Burgundy to pursue his dream of producing his own wine. 'I found Bordeaux a bit snooty and Champagne, while interesting, is a bit too expensive - [and] too cold for me to live there,' he says. Securing the capital to start his business was the biggest challenge. Since wine must be left to mature for at least two years before it's sold, there's a fairly long wait before revenues start coming in. 'I didn't want to ask my parents for the money,' Nakada says. 'I felt that if a stranger lent it to me, I'd be more responsible and work harder.' Eventually, he found a backer in Japan and Lou Dumont was born. The company name is a combined reference to the daughter of a close friend and to the mountains in their hometowns, Dumont meaning 'from the mountains' in French. Nakada says his family was unfazed by his unusual career choice. 'Frankly, they had more trouble accepting that I wanted to marry a Korean woman,' he says, 'although once they met her, they warmed to her.' Park's family was equally sceptical, but she waved away their objections. Nakada says he took his philosophy of winemaking from Burgundian vintner Henri Jayer, who told him 'to make wine that I love and not wine that I thought people would like'. This dictum is perhaps what makes Lou Dumont wines particularly suited to the Asian palate. Nakada adds an Oriental touch while following the traditions of Burgundy winemaking, using pinot noir grapes painstakingly selected from vignerons that he works closely with, and matures the wines in oak barrels for 12 to 24 months before bottling. His Asian heritage influences his style of wine. 'For example, Asian people often find the orange juice in France very acidic. We just don't like that level of acidity,' he says. As a result, Lou Dumont wines tend to be less acidic, fruity and not too concentrated. 'We like wine which once opened, can be savoured slowly. The taste and the nose changes as it breathes,' says Park, who also studied oenology at Beaune. The pinot noir grape, for which Burgundy is renowned, can be particularly troublesome; the skin is thin and the grape is prone to rot. But it produces wine with multifaceted characteristics that intrigue Nakada. 'It's complex. Everything from the temperature of the wine to the choice of glass affects the wine. And that's what makes it interesting.' Nakada, Park and their two assistants handle everything themselves. Their first year was difficult and the wine turned out more concentrated that Nakada would have liked. Nevertheless, they managed to sell out their cellar. Since then, however, they've been retaining some vintages, especially from watershed years such as 2001, when they married, and 2002 and 2004, when their children were born. The 2004 vintage was noteworthy for other reasons. 'It was very humid and the grapes had rot,' Nakada says. 'I had to discard one-third of them.' But Nakada reckons his 2006 and 2007 vintages, which are just going on sale, are his best yet. 'Every year is different and I have to study and learn new things. I enjoy that,' he says. It's rare to find Asian winemakers outside Asia, says master of wine Debra Meiburg. 'It would be great if we had more Asian winemakers going abroad and vice versa so that there could be a good exchange.' Judging the recent International Wine and Spirit Competition in Hong Kong, Meiburg observed subtle notes in the wine. 'Maybe it has something to do with Japanese cuisine, where the focus is on freshness and highlighting the subtle qualities of the food,' she says. 'Burgundy tends to be on the subtle side and I would expect a wine made by a Japanese winemaker to be on the quieter side of that.' Lou Dumont wines were introduced to Hong Kong two years ago and have found takers among oenophiles looking for new interesting wines, says Sam Lau, manager of Rare and Fine Wine in Sheung Wan. 'After the wine was mentioned in the comic book, we had people asking for it. We're sold out now and waiting for the 2007 vintage.' Not surprisingly, Nakada and Park hope to eventually have their own vineyard in Burgundy, although that may be a far-off dream. Besides the huge cost, it can be a challenge to acquire a domaine as foreigners. 'Perhaps my children or grandchildren will be able to do it,' Park says.