Château Mercian turns 140
Japan’s leading winery continues to evolve
In August 2017, Château Mercian in Katsunuma, Yamanashi, celebrated “140 Years of Winemaking in Japan.” Numerous media outlets attended the event, which included a prayer for good harvest and ceremonial fermentation using Koshu grapes.
Dainihon Yamanashi Wine Company, Japan’s first winery, was established in 1877. Two young men named Masanari Takano and Sukejiro Tsuchiya (later Ryuken Tsuchiya) were dispatched to the Champagne region of France to learn about grape cultivation and brewing, leading to the official start of winemaking in Japan. Château Mercian is the successor of Dainihon.
Taking part in this anniversary event, I got the strong impression that wine is now an integral part of Japanese culture. Wine was originally a product of the Western world, “the blood of Christ” used in Christian masses. At the Mercian event, the Shinto priest from Japan offered prayers to God, and made an offering not with Japanese sake but grape wine. One could not help but feel the broad-mindedness of Japanese culture in its longstanding ability to take in the customs of other parts of the world. It is worth noting that the Shinto ritual was conducted by Masaoki Takano, chief priest of Hikawa Shrine and the great grandson of Masanari Takano.
Château Mercian’s status as the leader of Japanese wine is most evident in how it has contributed to the development of the Koshu grape variety. Koshu was once dismissed as “a mediocre variety with poor flavor,” but the brewing team led by the late Shogo Asai (penname Usuke Asai) broke this barrier. They succeeded in extracting fragrance and umami using the sur lie method, which keeps the grape peels in contact with the juice, and in 1984 Château Mercian Shinonome Sur Lie was born, earning great acclaim. Had Château Mercian monopolized this technique, it could have dominated the market. However, Mr. Asai swallowed his pride and revealed the technique to other nearby wineries. Since then the quality of Koshu grapes has improved tremendously, and today its wines earn numerous awards in international competitions.
As the leader of Japanese wine, Château Mercian continues to innovate and evolve. It has not only chalked up numerous achievements, with its Château Mercian Kikyogahara Merlot taking the Gold Medal at the Challenge International du Vin 2017, but it has also made earnest attempts to fulfill its original mission of “representing Japan’s terroir”. This includes Château Mercian Iwasaki Koshu, which takes on the refreshing flavor of Koshu grapes from the Iwasaki district of Koshu in Yamanashi; Château Mercian Kikyogahara Merlot, which represents the distinctive charm of the merlot from Kikyogahara in Shiojiri, Nagano; and Château Mercian Hokushin Chardonnay RGC and Château Mercian Hokushin Chardonnay RDC, which offer a subtle expression of the riverside terroir in the same region. There are almost too many to mention.
It has been 140 years since the birth of Japanese wine. With Japan said to be in the midst of its “seventh wine boom,” we can’t wait to see what Château Mercian has in store next.
(Text: Kimiko Anzai)
Contact: Mercian 0120-676-757 (toll-free)