• Alice Hama

Chateau Mercian - Pioneer of Quality Japanese Wines

Last year in 2012 I visited Chateau Mercian in Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan.  It was the last week of August. Grapes were turning color, waiting for another few weeks for the harvest.

Chateau Mercian is located about 10 min drive from JR Katsunuma Budou-kyo Station in Yamanashi Prefecture.  Because of its proximity to Mr. Fuji, the soil contains high level of volcanic ash. Along with this unique terroir, the extreme temperature drop in the night creates a foundation in producing wines with a distinct style.  The winery produces international grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon but they are known for its Koshu.  Koshu is a Japanese indigenous grape variety (pronounced as “Kō-u-shūe”, very close to kosher) and the wines made with this grape range from sweet dessert wines to clean and crisp style.  Even though the grape skin is “reddish grey” the wines made with this grape are usually white.

Chateau Mercian is owned by Mercian Corporation, a leading wine and spirit company in Japan.  The company also has a strong link to Californian wine industry and is the importer of Robert Mondavi, Opus One, and Markham.

The history of the winery goes back to 1873 when Japan was entering “Meiji Restoration”, the movement where the country started opening its gate to foreign influences absorbing new techniques and lifestyle.  Wine was one of the symbols of westernization and modernization.  The innovative group of viticulturists founded the first “winery” in 1877 which later became what is now Chateau Mercian.  With its wine making process learned under the master enologist Pierre Dupon and master agriculturist Charles Barth in France, the company introduced wine culture into Japan and became the first to start commercial wine production.

After WWII in 1949, the Mercian brand was formulated and the first wine under the new brand "Shinshu Kikyogahara Merlot 1985" was awarded a Gold Medal in ANA International Wine Competition and got another Gold Medal with "Jyonohira Cabernet Sauvignon 1990".These accomplishments proved that Japan can be a high quality wine producer to compete with other already established wine countries.

The pioneer spirit and hard work are continually the core value of modern day Chateau Mercian and they are entering the new phase, focusing on the production of world class Koshu wines making it their mission to introduce "Japan finesse”.

Tom Stevenson’s “Wine Report” featured Chateau Mercian as “the best winery in Asia” and recent Wine Spectator review on “Koshu Kiiroka” had led to a huge media attention worldwide.

Kiiroka carries a bright acidity with lively minerals, very crisp, but soft and fine touch on flavor creates a different sensation that you cannot find in any other wines.

Wine Spectator reviewed the 2009 vintage as "This clean white offers floral, peach and citrus flavors in a gentle texture, with a light but firm backbone of acidity. Modest flavors, but balanced. Drink now. –TM"

Chateau Mercian team says Koshu’s balanced and sharp acidity with a pleasant bitterness offers a wide range of pairing with a variety of cuisines.  The wines are a perfect accompaniment to sensitive dishes such as Japanese sushi and sashimi.  Another unique point of Koshu wine is that it contains more Polyphenol than other average white wines. Since Polyphenol means the existence of tannin, the wine can also create contrast pairing with fatty dishes, for example, fried dishes like tempura or dishes with cream sauce.

I personally see that this Koshu can find a great spot in Los Angeles restaurant industry.

Recently released Zagat's “Best Restaurants in Los Angeles” listed 5 Japanese restaurants out of 10, and Japanese cuisines are a huge part of LA dining scene now.

Japanese wines? – definitely on the future map.