Heading into the new 2023/24 season, the first big season post Covid, I can’t help feeling the loss of Mick Nippard, owner of Mick’s winebar in Niseko Hirafu from 2010-2020.
Mick sadly passed away from cancer earlier this year leaving the Niseko community shocked and saddened even if most of us were aware that he had been fighting a battle against cancer for several years.
“Mick” was an institution in Niseko. He was popular with locals and visitors alike for his consummate hospitality and Niseko ‘insider’ knowledge. His wine bar was a magnet and usually overflowing with customers who flocked for the great social atmosphere, the wines and of course to see the man himself. If you were really lucky you got to see Mick do his Peter Garrett impression.
Mick was passionate about his wine and made it his life’s work, not just importing and serving wines at his own bars, but also educating Japanese and foreigners alike in wine seminars. He loved sharing his knowledge of wine and used funny, easily relatable descriptions like "this one's as smooth as a grape's silk pajamas". One of his mottos was “Life’s too short to drink bad wine.”
I met Mick around 2006 when he was running the newly opened SEKKA. He was descending the stairwell, showing some guests the way gesturing with his hand. I was ascending and only saw his hand coming at me, so I shook it. That was the start of a 17 year friendship and also a fruitful business association -- AW WINES (Mick's wine copmany) supplied Ezo Seafoods wines from the early days including “The Lackey” - a Claire Valley Riesling which Mick referred to “the hardest working white in the Claire Valley.”
Although I met Mick later in his life and far removed from the Australian roots, I felt like I had known him all his life. He had a jaunty streetsmart manner and a cheeky sense of humour -- a real "people's person." He was also a very hard worker: he was always following up with new wine recommendations, price lists etc. He was an excellent salesman.
I managed to pop into his bar in Kotoni, Sapporo in November 2022. He had done a fantastic job of creating an intimate wine bar space. I tried to get him to open up about what led him to close Micks in Niseko. He didn’t share the details, but I got the sense that some customers had treated him badly and had crossed the line. It was the first time that I had ever seen Mick vulnerable. But just as in his battle with cancer, he never complained or whinged. Mick wasn't the type to cry over spilt milk. We shared a couple of drinks that night and parted.
Mick was "true blue" to the end. Although he was unable to continue supplying me with wines (due to various reasons), he kindly and selflessly introduced me to several of his Japanese wine and sake supplier contacts. The introductions literally saved my wine and sake business in the first year of our new business.
You always knew where you stood with Mick and you always felt cheered up after a catchup. It's no wonder he had so many friends, amongst both foreigners and Japanese.
You are greatly missed Mick and Niseko is a poorer place now that you are gone.
I look forward to sharing this story and hearing others' recollections of "our Mick."