We're deeply impressed by this visit. For our first winery visit in the Yamanashi wine region south of Tokyo, we have come across wines that have nothing to fear from being tasted side to side with recognized international wines. This winery has a long existence already, and has reached international recognition under the guidance of Mrs Reiko Tsukamoto.
But let's remind the very beginning of Japan's wine : this is the year 1878, and the first years of the Meiji era, when Japan was opening itself to Western ideas and techniques, and some people in the town of Katsunuma, a city sitting on the foothills of snow-capped mountains [pic on right], were thinking of introducing wine here. 2 young men named Seisho Takano and Ryuken Tsuchiya were sent to Beaune, France, to study everything about vineyard farming and winemaking. After two years they were back home and started a winery in Katsunuma, the Dainihon Yamanashi Winery.
Chateau Lumiere was also founded in Katsunuma during these early years, in 1885 to be precise, but under the name of Koshu-en winery at the time. Its founder, Tokuyoshi Furuya, is the grand-grandfather of the present owner, Toshihiko Tsukamoto, making of this winery maybe the oldest family winery in Japan. After WW2, Toshihiko Tsukamoto studied at the University of California and in the mid-1960s' he decided to rebuild the Koshu-en winery, giving it the new name of Chateau Lumiere.
As we drive to the winery we already pass by vineyards and we discover the uncommon (for us), high-canopy training of the region. Even though there are no leaves in this season, we can see that the training system is intended to keep the foliage and grapes grow high from the ground, like a roof under which the air can flow freely. Thus, there is a natural aeration of the grapes and it helps keep them dry. A
As soon as we arrive we see what looks like a familiar winery, a chai with vats, a couple of pneumatic presses, casks being cleaned by a female worker, cases of bottles (bordeaux shape)... We have to think twice about what we're doing here : this is Japan and we are really into a winery visit, which seems a bit out of place because we tend to associate Japan with sake and not wine.
Mr Tezuka, from Mann's winery, a very important winery of the region, joins us for this tasting [picture on right].
__ Koshu 2006. Raised on its lees. Koshu is a Vitis Vinifera which is thought to have been first planted in Japan by a Japanese monk (the monks again at the origin of wine...) in the year 718 in the Yamanashi district. This variety evolved and progressively adapted to the particular climatic conditions of Japan. Fresh nose. Ananas, citrus aromas. Nice feel in the mouth, glides smoothly.
__ Koshu 2007. Vat. Surprising Bergamot-candy aromas in the mouth.
__ Koshu 2003. 2 years in cask (16 to 20 months exactly). Some wood on the nose, ananas too. Darker yellowish color. Pleasant mouth. Very little SO2 adding here.
Muscat Bailey-A 2007. Stainless vat. Nose : Eucalyptus, encense aromas. The mouth is well in line with the nose, and well balanced. Mr Kida feels the fruit in here.
__ Muscat Bailey-A 2006. This wine fermented in the stone vat (one of the historic ones). Very nice nose. Concentration. 6-months elevage in casks. Red-fruits Aromas, redcurrant, cherry. Same grape variety than the former wine, and the different expression comes from the different fermentation-container and elevage type. This wine costs 2100 Yen only, or about 13 Euro. Very good value.
__ Black Queen 2005. Red. Purple-blue color on the edge of the glass. Nose : well-integrated wood. Nice texture on the palate. Black Queen is an acidic variety that needs long laying down before consumption. 1890 Yen, a bit less than 13 Euro.
__ Histoire 2004. Blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Black Queen (and a tiny % of Mills). Nose : underwood, mushrooms, quite complex. Encense, B. notes. Very pleasant mouth, quite long. 2205 Yen, or a bit less than 14 Euro. These wines are not only excellent, but their prices are very affordable, you'd expect to pay much more for Japan-made quality-wines of this level.
We're walking on a biodynamicly-farmed vineyard plot where they keep the grass because their roots aerate the undersoil. Mr Kida says that Nicolas Joly (who heads the Biodynamics group "Renaissance des Appellations" in France) came here for a visit. Of course, the climate in Japan is very different than, say, Burgundy or the Loire, and this vine training is precisely intended to counter the high-humidity in the summer, but on the other hand, the mountains which border the area bring some cool air in the night. The soil is sandy, and it helps drain the abundant rain water.
Chateau Lumière has a guesthouse table with view on these vineyards where under the supervision of Mrs Kida, you will be served a precise and delicate cuisine along of course the house wines. Check the Chateau Lumière sparkling, you will be surprised.