Grapes: Steuben, Niagara, Delaware
Region: Yamagata, Japan
Soils: Granite + Schist
Vinification: This cuvée is made from co-fermented Steuben (71%) and Niagara (10%) that spends eight days on skins, blended with a co-ferment of Steuben and Delaware (29%) that spends six days on skins.
Aging: The wines are blended and after a short élevage in stainless steel, it’s bottled.
Fining or Filtering: None
Sulfur: None added
Notes from the Importer: In 2015, Kazuomi Fujimaki moved 350km north to Yamagata Prefecture from his long-time home in Tokyo. After spending his youth in the military, opening six successful Italian restaurants in Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka, and becoming a well-respected sommelier and advocate for natural wine, it was time to take the next step. Transitioning to farming and winemaking at fifty is a brave feat, but his exuberance and dedication compelled him to try.
Their winery was completed in 2017 in Nan’yo. The city has been in steady decline for the past fifty years, with over ten thousand residents (25%) leaving for larger urban centres. Despite its fame for the Chrysanthemum Festival, Kumano-Taisha Shrine, and the hot springs, many are opting out of agriculture. Kazuomi has adopted many abandoned vineyards, hoping to inspire a new generation to return to the land via his captivating, terroir-driven wines. He foresees a day when dozens of vignerons will work side-by-side, elevating the region to the level of prestige it is capable of. Hence the name Grape Republic – it’s a goal, not just a moniker.
The region is mostly between 200-450m above sea level, surrounded on three sides by mountains, far enough from the ocean to be considered a continental climate. These factors lead to massive diurnal swings, a variable that helps grapes retain their acidity. By Japanese standards, Yamagata is slightly less humid, which makes organic agriculture a fraction more manageable. The soils drain well and are often comprised of granite and schist.
The majority of grapes grown in this region are hybrids – crossings of Vitis Vinifera (European grape vines) and varieties from North America. Most were created for culinary applications, favouring large, uniform berries, delicate flavours, lower sugar levels, thinner skins, little to no seeds, and softer acids for the ideal eating experience. They tend to be more resistant to Japan’s humidity and easily adapt to alternative training systems like overhead pergolas. The flavour profile of these grapes is entirely new for many consumers, making them as shocking as they are delicious.
Japan’s lack of a robust appellation system is a double-edged sword for Kazuomi. It leaves the door open for questionable practices like adulteration and fraud but also allows for experimentation and exploration. Nearly every European appellation has outlawed hybrid grapes, a near-sighted and limiting approach that upholds a colonial and euro-centric rubric for quality.