We are on the verge of Fall and the harvest season in Nagano. Jim is looking forward to joining in the picking and sorting of the grapes at the nearby San Cousair winery later this month. The weather was quite wet and cloudy during September and the vineyard manager, Makoto Tsuchiya, is a bit anxious if the rains continue through October. We are keeping our fingers crossed.
September and October are not surprisingly the best time for wines in Nagano. Why – because it is harvest season. And normally we would be gearing up to visit some of our favorite wineries to help with the picking and the sorting of the grapes as well as joining the picnics in the vineyards and sampling some of the just released 2020 wines.
Probably one of the largest obstacles to the growth of the Nagano wine industry is the challenge of producing wine at scale with the consequent ability to bring it to the local market at prices competitive with producers from Australia, California, Europe, and others. While tariffs remain on imported wines, they are slated to decrease over the next several years and the top level for the United States and Europe is currently just 15 percent and Australia only 4 percent.
Yorozuya, our favorite wine shop, has surprised us again with wines from smaller wineries that underscore the continuing growth, diversity, and vitality of the wine industry in Nagano. Reflecting this, we will also be providing links to two new online shop sites that were recently launched in the prefecture and feature Nagano wines exclusively, providing a platform for smaller wine makers to reach out to a broader slice of the wine-drinking market and to serve as an entry portal for, particularly, young people in Japan who are increasingly interested in visiting Nagano and other wine destinations in Japan to taste the local product. This is an important demographic shift from an older generation that enjoys wine but sees it as a “foreign” (French, Australian, American) product.
This month we are continuing what we did in March and going back to check the recent offerings from wineries that we have liked in the past. The wineries we selected are the Obuse Winery run by the iconoclastic Akihito Soga and the Chateau Mercian Mariko Vineyard, which is operated by the Kirin Brewery Corporation.
We welcomed the New Year in Nagano with more than abundant snow. Quite a contrast to the previous year when the weather was generally warm and any precipitation usually took the form of rain. Needless to say, the pandemic has been a dark cloud on most everything – except our favorite pastime, which is to sit in front of our wood-burning stove holding a glass of wine with our young German Shepherd sleeping comfortably by our side.
It is snowing in the mountains of Nagano as we write this – and the ski season promises to be the best in a decade. There is already nearly half a meter of snow on the ground and another half meter is expected overnight. After a long day on the slopes, there is nothing better than sitting by a wood stove and trying out some new wines.
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).