We are enjoying a beautiful fall season in Nagano: the trees are in full fall color; the grapes have been harvested; and there is already snow on the group of volcanos (active and dormant) that surround us. Fortunately, we have largely escaped the worst of the pandemic in the prefecture (just over 400 reported cases in a population of 2 million). So, life goes on much as before with restaurants and shops open and people preparing for the start of the ski season in mid-December.
This month we are featuring wines from two boutique wineries: Funky Chateau (we still love that name!) and Coteau des Chevrettes (yes, there are goats that help out at the winery to keep the weeds away from the vines).
Funky Chateau “Premier Fois” Merlot 2017
We introduced the Funky Chateau winery in our July 2020 review that sampled the 2018 Funky Chateau Rouge, a 3300 yen Merlot, which we recommended as a worthy alternative to the more expensive “Premier Fois”. We decided to revisit the latter, when we came across a bottle at our favorite wine shop in Kurohime, Yorozuya. Prompting our interest was a review from wine critic Jamie Goode, who had sampled the 2017 “Premier Fois” from the barrel when he visited the winery in February 2019. He described the wine as having “good concentration” and as “well structured with sweet blackberry and cherry flavors”. He predicted that the wine when released would score between 89 and 91/100. Winemaker Toyohiko Kanehashi held it back for another year and released the wine this past spring with the recommendation that it could be put away for another 3-5 years before reaching maturity. While we believe that the wine has already grown into the high scoring wine Jamie predicted, we do not disagree with the winemaker’s assessment for aging as the wine has a higher alcohol content (13.5%) than a typical Nagano wine that is in balance with a good level of acidity—suggesting that the wine has the potential to develop further complexity in bottle.
The higher alcohol and acidity combination is likely thanks to altitude: Funky Chateau is located in Aoki village, which is part of Ueda City in the mountainous northeastern corner of Nagano, and its vineyard is located at 1000 meters (among the highest in Japan). At this altitude, day and night temperatures vary dramatically allowing the grapes to achieve higher sugar levels (and thus higher alcohol levels) while maintaining acidity.
Available for 5400 yen from the winery (call 0268-49-0377).
Coteau des Chevrettes Sauvignon Blanc 2019
This wine should not be good, but it is.
It comes from a small boutique winery operating on 4.5 acres of land. The winery got its start in 2013 and currently produces a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc, and a Rouge (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend). Over the years, we have learned to stay away from Nagano producers that cannot operate at scale and that try to produce a little of everything. This is largely because the transition between growing grapes and making wine is difficult. But help appears to be on the way as this is the second small and new winery that contracts-out its winemaking to the Arc En Vigne wine academy set up by Toyo Tamamura, a poet who also runs the large and commercially successful Villa d’Est winery in the prefecture. We wrote about a similar arrangement last month in recommending Terre de Ciel Winery’s Sauvignon Blanc, the making of which is also contracted-out to Arc En Vigne.
We don’t know the details of the relationship between Arc en Vigne and Coteau des Chevrettes and Terre de Ciel, respectively, and assume the latter two have a say in the winemaking process. However, we believe the opportunity for small producers like these to have access to experienced and knowledgeable winemakers helps address one of the largest challenges facing the Nagano wine industry: how to evolve winemaking in the prefecture from a “hobby” to a “business”.
The Coteau des Chevrettes has a sweet floral nose, a golden color and fruity (some may call this “sweet”) flavor reminiscent of a Pouilly Fuisse, while, as you may recall from our recommendations, the Terre de Ciel is more in the style of New Zealand.
Available for 3300 yen from the winemaker.