Fizz from the East - Sparkling Koshu from Japan
There are not many locations in Japan ill-suited to rice growing, but fortunately for the budding Japanese wine industry, the climate and soils of the Katsunuma district in Yamanashi Prefecture are far more appropriate for grapes than rice. The native grape that the Japanese claim as their own is the pink-skinned Koshu (its ancestry includes a small proportion of the Davide hybrid), which is believed to have originated in China and travelled the Silk Road from the Caucasus across Asia a thousand years ago. In medieval times, the sun-drenched post-town of Katsunuma became a watering hole for weary travellers bound for Edo (present-day Tokyo) and the Koshu-loving Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan in the Edo period spanning 1603 to 1868.
Because of its eating-grape, and subsequently basic table wine credentials, Koshu remained an afterthought until the 1980s, and would have continued to languish in its table wine backwater for who knows how long until it was adopted, partly for sentimentally patriotic reasons, by a small number of pioneering wine producers. Realising its potential thanks to combination of high sunshine hours, fertile soils and an adaptable overhead pergola, these growers went out on a limb to make quality wine. They were able to harness modern viticultural and winemaking techniques to produce a variety of dry, sweet, barrel-fermented and, as much to the point, sparkling styles. Today, Yamanashi covers over 4000 hectares of which Koshu comprise roughly a tenth of the vineyard area, and Katsunuma, about half of that.
We are extremely proud to be presenting two fine expressions of sparkling Koshu, from two outstanding producers (Katsunuma Jozo - Aruga and Château Lumière), at our Champagne & Sparkling Wine Festival next week. A very rare opportunity to taste these characterful wines in the UK.
It’s testament to the playful sense of humour of Katsunuma Jozo’s owner, Yuji Aruga, that he decided to adopt Portuguese names when it occurred to him that the name Aruga sounded Portuguese. Since its foundation in 1937, Aruga has built a highly successful commercial operation in Katsunuma, with third generation Aruga remaining the active head of operations, while his three sons, Hirotake, Jun and Sho, are becoming increasingly involved. In particular Hirotaka’s experience in Beaune working at Domaine Simon Bize et Fils brings an exciting new experimental dimension to the wines, with trials using natural yeasts, whole bunch pressing, and skin-contact wine made in Georgian clay qvevri. Of the five Koshu wines they make, Brilhante is the complex sparkling wine which remains on its lees for two years and another three years in the cellar.
Established as Tokugi Furiya, Château Lumière, the oldest family-owned winery in Japan, has operated continuously as a winery since 1885. Its European-style, 10-tonne ‘Ishigura’ fermenting chambers were built from massive granite blocks in 1901 and remain today a national heritage, or Registered Tangible Cultural Property. Its current owner, the dapper Shigeki Kida (he reminds me of Tuscany’s wine gentry) has introduced elements of natural and biodynamic viticulture without chemical additions to the soils ‘to take advantage of the power of nature and to express the taste of the wine with the character of the place as terroir’. In addition to a range of quality still wines, fizz highlights include a Bollinger-esque Kakitsubata Traditional Sparkling Koshu Lumière NV, a Sparkling Rosé, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Black Queen, Tannat and Merlot, and the wine they are showing at our fizz event, the creamy Lumière Bottle-fermented Sparkling Koshu, which spends a year on the lees to develop a degree of complexity.
- posted by Anthony Rose