Château Mercian, a leading wine producer in Japan, has produced wines from Koshu grapes for nearly half a century. They finally decided to release their ‘Icon Series’ Koshu, considered by the winery as its top echelon Koshu expression.
Icon Series Koshu
The name of the premium Koshu wine is Château Mercian Iwade Koshu Ortum, and the first vintage will be 2020. It will be released at the end of September this year, Château Mercian made the announcement in the press conference last month.
Château Mercian started to produce wines from Koshu grapes in the 1970s. Firstly, they aimed at a fresh & fruity style. After that, they have attempted to make various styles of Koshu, from a dry sur-lie style to an oak-influenced style which is fermented and aged in barrique.
From the year 2000, they started a Koshu project to develop new possibilities for Koshu grapes. As the result of this project, an orange-wine style ‘Koshu Gris de Gris 2002’ was released in 2003. ‘Koshu Kiiro-Ka 2004’, which enhanced the aroma derived from 3MH(3-mercaptohexanol) such as grapefruits, was released in 2005. This wine was developed in cooperation with the late Dr. Takatoshi Tominaga of La Faculté d’oenologie, Université de Bordeaux 2.
The Koshu grapes of Iwade district in Yamanashi city gave birth to ‘Koshu Kiiro-Ka’. The owner of this vineyard is Mr. Noboru Ueno, former factory director of Château Mercian. Ten years after the release of “Koshu Kiiro-Ka”, Château Mercian delivered ‘Koshu Kiiro-Ka Cuvée Ueno 2013’ of which grapes were sourced only from Mr. Ueno’s vineyard.
“Something is missing for Iwade Koshu Kiiro-Ka Cuvée Ueno (formerly named “Koshu Kiiro-Ka Cuvée Ueno”) to be an icon wine” said Mr. Mitsuhiro Anzo, General Manager of Château Mercian. They sought advice from Mr. Kenichi Ohashi MW or Mr. Sam Harrop MW and made a prototype of a new wine in 2020.
They sent samples to several world-renowned MWs who gave the wine a high evaluation. As a result, they finally decided to release this new wine as one of their top series of wines (Icon Wines).
Other Icon Series wines are ‘Jyonohira Ortus’, ‘Kikyogahara Merlot Signature’, ‘Mariko Omnis’ ‘Hokushin Left Bank Chardonnay Rivalis’ and ‘Hokushin Right Bank Chardonnay Rivalis’.
For Château Mercian Iwade Koshu Ortum, the grapes are sourced from the best parcel of the vineyards which produced ‘Iwade Koshu Kiiro-Ka Cuvée Ueno’. The name “Ortum” means “ascension” in Latin. This name was selected with the hope that this wine boosts the presence of Koshu wines and Japanese wines in the world. Mr. Anzo added that he wanted to preserve the name of Mr. Noboru Ueno, a respected former factory director, in the wine. “Noboru” means “ascension” in Japanese.
As shown above, ‘Château Mercian Iwade Koshu Ortum’ is a cumulation of experiences, knowledge and passion for Koshu wines by Château Mercian that has lasted for nearly 50 years.
New production region for Koshu
Additionally, the winery also released a new Koshu wine made from a new region, named Château Mercian Tsuruoka Koshu with the first vintage being 2020.
Tsuruoka is located in Yamagata prefecture, a northern part of Japan. It is said that Koshu grapes have been cultivated in Yamanashi prefecture for nearly 1300 years. Yamagata is located about 500 km away from Yamanashi. Koshu grapes were brought from Yamanashi to Yamagata via Edo (current Tokyo) around 250 years ago.
According to Mr. Anzo, the Koshu grapes of Tsuruoka show a clearly different character from those of Yamanashi. The berries are small, have a richer color in red, have more acidity and more structure. According to Mercian, wines of Tsuruoka Koshu have a nuance of citrus peel with an aroma of ripe fruits such as white peach and banana. They have a good acidity which shows a good balance with fruit. For “Château Mercian Tsuruoka Koshu” , we can expect a different expression of Koshu grapes from that of Yamanashi.
‘Château Mercian Fuefuki Koshu Gris de Gris’ won gold medal in IWC
An orange-wine style ‘Fuefuki Koshu Gris de Gris 2017’ got a gold medal in the International Wine Challenge China 2019 in Shanghai. This was the first medal for “Koshu Gris de Gris” in an international competition.
Then, in the International Wine Challenge (IWC) 2021 in London this April, ‘Château Mercian Fuefuki Koshu Gris de Gris 2019’ won a gold medal again. This is the only gold medal awarded to Japanese wines in IWC 2021. Furthermore, as an orange wine, this is the first gold-medal wine which is from an area other than Georgia, widely recognized as the place of origin of orange wines.
Koshu grapes have a pink-colored skin. This was once considered negatively. “Gris de Gris”, however, changed this mindset by utilizing the grapes’ skin positively. The gold medal shows that this challenge was finally recognized in the world.
Mercian has continued to show various possibilities for Koshu grapes to the world. Now, the winery aims to ascend the position of Koshu and Japanese wines in the world by sharing their techniques with other wineries in Japan.