My first visit to Yamanashi prefecture this year was on a cold, but sunny morning in January. The snow covered mountain view from Katsunuma Budoukyo Station was pretty (about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Tokyo Station). I was hoping to visit three wineries this day.
I took a taxi from the station, heading to the first winery, which unfortunately turned out to be closed that day. My quick thinking taxi driver offered to take me to a nearby winery he knew would be open, Chateau Mercian. There are over 80 wineries in the area, so finding an alternative place to visit wasn't a problem.
The museum provided a good mental appetizer by explaining the challenges that the early wine making pioneers had to go through. The presentation also touched on how innovative the founder of Suntory Co. was at the time, in promoting the area and its products. Now my stomach was ready for lunch!
Since Chateau Mercian also has a winery in Nagano prefecture, I decided to purchase Nagano Chardonnay, instead of the Yamanashi wines the Chateau was promoting. The Hokushin area in Nagano is famous for producing a fine quality Chardonnay grape. So I picked five (5) varietal wines produced from Chardonnay grapes from the Nagano region and all from the same vintner, Chateau Mercian. The Chateau presented both winery-exclusive-wines and hard-to-afford-pricy-wines available for tasting, which was exactly what I did.
一番気に入ったのは限定品の 北信シャルドネ ミッドナイトハーベスト2013。ハチミツのような甘い香りと、ほのかな樽香に長い余韻。時間とともに複雑に変化していきました。お値段が高いのは余韻が長い？ということかしら？ シャルドネは果実がパワフルなので樽で熟成させることの多いブドウですが、樽の効き方も様々。ツンツンするワインもあるし、新しいヴィンテージなのにまろやかなのもある。こうして比べるのは面白いですね。
My favorite wine so far, of the five I collected that day, is the Hokushin Chardonnay Midnight Harvest 2013. To me it has a honey like sweet aroma with a medium body and a smooth slightly acetic flavor; it left a hint of oak lingering nicely in my mouth. It seems like the more pricy wines have a longer aftertaste than the more reasonably priced wines. Am I learning something here? And pricy wines seem to have more body and seem to opened up or develop different flavors and aromas as they decant. Chardonnay is a powerful grape and so it is often matured in casks. I've noticed that some wines have a stronger cask flavor than others; some wines were produced from younger grapes and some from more ripened harvests. I'm learning that not all flavor components develop necessarily because of an older vintage date on the bottle, especially Chardonnay, which in most cases ought to be consumed within a few years of production. This visit was a good way to learn more and enjoy the wines at the winery.
From Left top: Niitsuru Chardonnay 2012/Nagano Chardonnay 2013/Japanese Local Wine Kuninaka Muscat Beiley A Rose 2013
Left Bottom:Hokushin Chardonnay2012/Hokushin Chardonnay Midnight Harbest2013 /Nagano Chardonnay Cuveee AKIO2013
The tasting space of the winery has big windows facing vineyards. There are chairs and tables outside as well which must be really nice during milder seasons.
<Soryu Winery co.>
I had reserved a winery tour at Grace Wine starting from 2pm. I had about 30 minutes to get to Grace when I left Chateau Mercian. Grace Wine didn't look so far from Chateau Mercian on the map, and I guessed the distance would take about 10 minutes to cover on foot.
I found the Souryu Winery on my way to Grace Wine and with still about 25 minutes before my Grace tour, yea, why not stop in to have a peek at Souryu! I went in, tasted two Koshu wines and bought 2 bottles of Koshu Citrus Scent, a reasonable house wine that is described as having a flowery citrus flavor.
<Grace Wine >
It was 1:47 pm when I stepped outside Souryu. Oops! I had to run up a hill and back down the other side. Grace Wine was a lot farther away than it looked on the map. I barely made it to my tour on time. Plan more time or plan on about a 1.5km run. Whew!
Grace Wine offers a few winery tour options. They own two wineries in Yamanashi prefecture (Katsunuma area and Akeno area) and their premium tour in the Akeno area is very popular. I visited during the off season, so I picked a tour called 'Understanding Koshu Grape' .
The guide took me to their vineyard first. The Koshu grape is considered indigenous to Japan since it found its way into Japan more than 1000 years ago. The Koshu grape was originally cultivated as a fruit, but some portions were harvested for vinification. Winemaking back in the olden days was not as systematic and sophisticated as it is today. Starting about 15 to 20 years ago, local winemakers became more focused on producing good quality wines and their efforts are showing impressive results. They have adopted different styles of cultivating grapes in an attempt of enhance flavor concentrations. The traditional training system of Koshu grapes is to give the vines a cane pruning each year and then to trellis them as they grow. Vines trained in this way are capable of growing up to 300 grape clusters. Grapes become juicier if there are more clusters on a vine, however wine tastes better if grape clusters are more optimally managed. So most vines designated for wine production are now trained upwards as they grow in what is known as vertical shoot positioning, which maximizes the sunlight directly reaching the clusters of grapes. Although yields are lower, this style improves the quality of the grape, which in turn helps to improve the quality of the wine.
The guide then showed me their wine making facility. Wines vinify in this clean high tech place.
Then it was a tasting time! Grace Wine had been featured on TV a few days before my visit, so some of their Koshu wines usually reserved for this Koshu tasting tour were sold out. So I got to try some of the other of wines they make. Lucky me!
Tasting their wine after learning about their wine making process revealed a whole new aspect of wine to me. I could see how purely their wines are made and how delicate the flavors are cultivated. It makes sense to me that their target is to make a global standard wine. As a matter of fact, they have already started exporting their wines to several countries like England, Belgium, Italy and France.