Cate Blanchett On Toku Saké And Her Passion-First Investment Strategy

Food & Drink

In the many years I’ve been asking celebrities about their latest investments, I’ve never seen someone light up quite like Cate Blanchett (icon of the silver screen-turned-Creative Director of the small-yet-luxuriously enormous Toku Saké).

“I sort of stalked you,” Cate Blanchett smirks towards Toku Saké’s co-founder Anthony Newman, before turning back to me. “I’ve been wanting to be involved in the creation of saké for, I would say, 15 years?”

Blanchett is a self-proclaimed saké obsessive, but her fascination with said fermented rice wine extends beyond drinking it. During her tenure as the global ambassador for esteemed Japanese skincare brand, SK-II, she was regularly immersed in the intricate processes of saké production.

After meticulously researching 350 possible yeast strains found in saké ferment for its best-selling “holy grail” Face Essence, SK-II isolated a yeast strain called Saccharomycopsis and trademarked it under the name Pitera. A saké ferment so powerful, in fact, it now makes up 90% of the product’s entire composition.

“I had done tour after tour of all the saké breweries around Kyoto and became fascinated with the fermentation process,” she says. “That, and obviously, the saké.”

Still, as those fifteen years passed, this was not Blanchett’s first attempt at entering the saké market.

“I had explored doing something like this with various people before and it sort of just – not crumbled, because nothing ever crumbles – it just didn’t come to fruition,” she says.

“All of my long-term creative relationships have happened organically, and I was really inspired by Toku’s borderline obsession with saké. This happened relatively quickly; it’s nascent, it’s ready to go, but it also has a really smart strategy laid out.”

The brand’s strategy, in short, is all about reframing what the Western world assumes saké is.

Their unique product is something of a delicacy. Due to its exceptionally cold climate and unique terroir, Hokkaido is home to far fewer saké breweries than the rest of Japan – bar Toku. Simply put, it’s more challenging to produce saké in there than other regions, but those who manage to do so create sakés with uniquely crisp, aromatic flavor profile and an exceptionally smooth finish.

Toku is a prime example of this.

Still, after eight years of trial and error, its late 2022 debut wasn’t poised to rock the market; co-founders Anthony Newman and Peter Hudson simply wanted to make a special saké. They only released 1,500 bottles to test the market at first, and a celebrity partnership was the last thing on their minds.

The first? Getting people to approach the product – which doesn’t come cheap at £155 ($197) – like they would approach wine.

“I don’t want to call it a problem, but there’s a challenge there – for people in the West to understand how to enjoy saké,” says Blanchett. “Not only the ritual of it, but also the pairing of it. There’s a disconnect with people thinking it’s only to be enjoyed with Japanese cuisine.”

Thankfully, the data paints a compelling picture for Toku’s future growth: Japanese saké exports soared to unprecedented heights in 2022, surging to a record-breaking 47.5 billion Japanese yen (equivalent to $318 million). This marked an impressive 18% increase from the previous year and a staggering 431% rise since 2012.

The category may not be seeing explosive growth, but it’s certainly seeing a micro-boom.

“I’m a proud investor,” Blanchett continues. “I really do believe not only in this category – and as you say, there is a micro-boom – but in the potential of it. But you’ve got to be with the right people, in the right conversation, and you’ve got to be interested in paving the way.”

Toku is paving that way slower than you might expect, too. Even with one of the world’s most recognizable faces on board, they’re in no rush to pop corks. There have been no massive launches, no billboard campaigns, and no song-and-dance media storms.

“I really love the pace at which we’re moving, which I think is antithetical to the way most people act when they’re releasing something,” she continues, “but I think it’s really important to invest time and energy into the things you love.

“We’re in no rush. We know what we have is exceptional.”

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