Uchida-San is a warmful person who is passionated by his winery and this visit was a delight. His winery sits in the middle of the Katsunuma vineyards, with a large parking lot on the side to receive the 20 000 visitors a year who make a stop at his tasting bar and shop. The winery was founded in 1939 by Mr Uchida's grandfather. He and his wife are running this winery where a wide range of wines, both red and white, and spirits are produced.
We will have seen and been explained many things during this visit and I hope I didn't leave some precious info aside, because I didn't take notes all the time. One of the first thing that we visit is precisely the distillery, where they make a 40° Brandy Grappa. We didn't taste it but this leaves room for another visit. The new alambic is made in Italy by Cadalpe, it is a brand new (2 years old) shining distillery with tubes and pipes all over. Mr Uchida shows us the old Japanese distiller [pic on left - click to enlarge] : a square thick-wood container sitting on a boiler (makes me think to the rice steaming process in a sake brewery), with what looks like a copper pipe-exit at the top. You can see on the picture Mr Uchida holding the condensation coils that were used with this distiller. Mr Uchida is an expert in the field and he cooperated with this study [Pdf].
Uchida-san has also made some room in the winery for an Art Glass workshop where the artist can create glass objects.
I spot a worker busy pruning the vineyard in the distance and we (B. and Uchida-san) chat a few minutes with him. That is really interesting for us to see someone working on the vines, it adds a reality layer to our winery experience in Japan... Plus, as you see, the weather was cold but beautiful. Mr Uchida-san shows us how he prunes the Chardonnay which is trained in line, Ichimonji style. He keeps 2 nodes with the best bud. We see remains of clusters on the vines still covered by a small sheet protection similar to the one used in the Thomery traditional system : the grapes wear an individual protection against the sun and the rain. See on the right how beautiful the scenery is : the bare vineyard, the canopy-supporting metal poles and the Chichibu mountain range in the far...
__ Koshu 2007 raised on its lees [pic on the right, with Uchida-san]. Nice creamy nose. This wine is clear like spring water. It won the bronze medal in the Japan Wine Challenge 2007 (see the results). The 720ml bottle costs only 1585 Yen (10 Euro or 14,8 USD).
__ Koshu 2005. one-year elevage in casks. Medal too. yelowish color. 3160 Yen (20 Euro or 29,5 USD).
__ Koshu 2007 "Nouveau" [pic on left]. Another very clear wine. The nose is not very expressive. Light sugar feel in the mouth. 1270 Yen.
__ Koshu 1989 Heisei. The 1st year of Emperor Heisei [pic on left - the bottle on the right]. That is a treat ! It shows that this Koshu variety can age. The nose is interesting, very flint-stone like, you almost feel the spark and the stone here. 10,5° alcohol only. Rather pronounced color. He says that the potential in alcohol is never as high here as in France for example, as there are 17-18 branches on a Koshu vine. Asked about the yields, he says that for 1 hectare of Koshu he gets 1,5 tons of grapes. He says that the growers around here have usually 0,6 hectare, which brings revenues of about 5 000 000 Yen a year (31 500 Euro or 47 000 USD). He says that greenhouses (we have seen huge greenhouses around here) bring more money to the growers, but they grow table grapes there usually. Table grapes also bring more money to the growers, about 800 Yen for a single grape, and the wineries can't pay this sort of money. He buys the fruit, not the must. In Japan, the law says that the vintners must press the grapes themselves.