Château Mercian has a story that dates back to 1877, formerly known as Dainihon Yamanashi Wine Company, making history as Japan's first Private winery. In 1949, the Mercian Brand was born. The name is a coinage of the French word for "thank you", merci, and "person", an. They are now regarded as one of the leading companies in the Japanese wine industry having won many praises and acclaims over the last few years. More recently they have been awarded Asian Wine Review 2019's Winery of the Year.
Here is a Q&A to learn more about the winery and what they have planned for the future from the Chief Winemaker, Kasuhisa Fujino.
- Congratulations on achieving Asian Wine Review 2019's title of Winery of the Year! What is the biggest challenge with regards to maintaining the quality of wine produced year after year? Japan has a challenging grape growing climate, especially during the ripening season.
We were very honoured to receive the Winery of the Year award in the first issue of Asian Wine Review in 2016, and I didn't really imagine about winning this award again for the second time this year.
There have been grapes that have always existed from the beginning of the company, so the most important thing is how we can secure good quality grapes. Without good grapes, no wine will impress anyone, no matter how great the winemaking technology is. Climate conditions during the ripening period are not ideal for some years in Japan, it is important to have several different regions of vineyards, including contracted vineyards. Current vineyards have a history of more than 40 years, beginning with Yamanashi as the place of viticulture for Château Mercian wines for many years.
Especially for European grape varieties, inland and high-altitude Nagano prefecture is a region with very low rainfall and has been successful as a cool climate grape growing region with long daylight hours.
- The winery has an incredible history that dates back to 1877. What can we be expecting from the next 10 years from Château Mercian?
Our concept of winemaking is to make Japanese wine with "Finesse & Elegance". Although winemaking can only be done once a year, we continue to evolve. There are always new challenges concerning grape cultivation and winemaking. There is no goal for winemaking as the traditions from many predecessors provide continuous innovation.
We continue to aim for quality wines that can ascertain "Finesse & Elegance" that cannot be expressed by other wineries.
- Château Mercian has two winemaking facilities; Katsunuma Winery in Yamanashi prefecture, and Kikyogahara Winery in Nagano. There are plans to open a new winery in Nagano, why was this wine region chosen as the home for the third winery?
This can be explained by the vineyards that were planted from the beginning. Mariko vineyard in Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture, is our largest own managed vineyard, which has been around 15 years since the start of viticulture in 2003. Our new winery which will be opened this fall is in this vineyard.
Up to today, we have transported grapes of this vineyard to Katsunuma in Yamanashi for vinification, but we decided last year to establish new winery in this vineyard by expanding the vineyard and to produce higher quality wines.
Photo credit: Food Science Japan
- It has been reported that there will be a focus on an increase in exports for Château Mercian, which cities or countries can we expect to see your wines in?
In Hong Kong, it has been going well in the on-premise market since we have started export in the last year. As for the latest target market, Château Mercian, mainly Koshu, can be found in London starting from May 2019. Other than that, we are continuing to export small amounts to the United States and Singapore.
- Japanese winemakers are not shy about experimenting with growing different varietals to see what works best for the environment, what grape varietals have worked well to be added to the Château Mercian portfolio?
Originally, the unique Japanese varieties in Yamanashi prefecture, Koshu and Muscat Bailey A are relatively resistant against humid climate conditions and fungal diseases by having thicker skins compared with Vitis vinifera. High-quality wines of Merlot and Chardonnay have been produced in Nagano since almost these 30 years, but since 2003, good quality white grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, and black skinned grapes such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc are also cultivated. Mariko Vineyard in Ueda City, eastern part of Nagano Prefecture, has long sunshine hours with less rainfall. We are planning to develop cultivation of excellent characteristics in the new grape growing areas.
- Koshu has been gaining international interest in the last few years, it even appeared in a Master of Wine exam recently, what would be the ultimate goal in your opinion for Koshu on the global stage?
In recent years, the new style of Koshu wine has a clean, fresh citrus aroma, with a crisp acidity and dry well-balanced flavour. There is also Koshu having the characteristics such as orange wine and dark tones with a rich flavour. It is the ultimate goal that Koshu can be enjoyed in the world, not only with Japanese dishes but also pairing with the cuisine of various countries.
- What are your favourite food pairings with Koshu and Muscat Bailey A?
Koshu - seafood sashimi, sushi, oyster and tempura.
Muscat Bailey A - every type of dish using soy sauce and sugar. Also good pairing with wide range of Japanese meat dishes such as grilled eel, sukiyaki and teppanyaki.
- You have been in the industry for a long time, what is the best advice that you have been given? And what advice would you give to others in the wine industry?
Regularly check the wine you are fermenting by the tasting and watching the appearance. Every morning, every evening, I didn’t skip the check.
Wine tasting by blind tasting. A person can make a wrong judgment when tasting by seeing the label. There is always a lot of new awareness by tasting blind. There is only one truth.
- What is your most memorable wine experience?
From 1992 to 1994, I was involved in grape cultivation and winemaking at Château Reysson in Bordeaux, and studying oenology and tasting (DUAD) at the Victor Segalen Bordeaux 2 University.
Photo credit: The Drinks Business
- There can be a lot of misconceptions to Japanese wines, what is the best approach to getting people to try Japanese wines for the first time?
I would recommend to taste not only Koshu and Muscat Bailey A but also the European varieties which top winemaker have made for the first time. If possible, I would like everyone to find a good Japan wine paring with international cuisines.
As I’ve mentioned already, I am confident that the "Finesse & Elegance" motto of Château Mercian will make wine to go well with varieties of fine dishes.
Japanese wine has been gaining more international interest in the last few years. Especially for their beautifully pink skinned Koshu grape. Last year the government enforced strict labelling laws and a Geographical Indications system to protect the integrity of Japanese winemaking. These are exciting times for wines produced in Asia. We can only wait to see how far they will go.
"The most important thing is that the wine is tasty, and if the wine is organic, I think it is even more wonderful"
- Katsuhisa Fujino, Chief Winemaker of Château Mercian