WINERY | ワイナリー
This is a story about a firebrand motocross racer/competitive bass fisherman turned genius grape farmer and a young, independent, single-mother maverick wine brewer who originally wanted to be a stand-up comedian. Against all odds they meet and start creating the highest-quality wines. Few years into making wine, world-renowned sommelier Gerard Basset happen to taste their wines, tweets the world about it (which is, let's face it, as close to breaking the internet that Japanese wine world can get) and the rest is history.
Originally a table-grape producing farm, Kisvin CEO Ogihara slowly started planting wine grapes when he took over his family business in 2002. He started a wine research group, Team Kisvin, to study wine grape farming in 2005, and in 2013 began making wine and founded Kisvin Winery. Two things set Kisvin Wine apart from other wineries:
1. Because they work with the idea that the best grapes make the wine-making process easy and simple, they are beyond hands-on with their grapes. The quality of their grapes is top-notch, placing them far ahead of the pack even before the race begins. Every member of their staff, including Saito, the wine brewer, are in the fields closely checking in on the grapes' growth. Coming from a table grape background gives Kisvin an advantage. They, like the Japanese do with their precious table grapes, individually cover every single grape bunch with their own little umbrellas by hand, which the winery worked with a factory to design and craft, to shield them from direct sunlight and morning dew. Saito also asks Ogihara to produce grapes with small fruit. Smaller grapes have a larger skin to fruit ratio, allowing more of the umami on the skin into the juices; even a 1mm difference in the circumference greatly changes the amount of umami. It also makes it easier to separate the fruit from the skin after harvesting. They won't share their secret to how they achieve this, but Ogihara says table grapes are made to be large and firm, so he does the exact opposite for his wine grapes to produce these smaller grapes.
2. They make what they want to drink. Most wine makers grow grapes that are easiest for the climate and environment. But CEO Ogihara says there are no such thing as an easy grape to grow anyway, and the only things one need to grow grapes are passion and will, so they might as well grow grapes of wines they want to drink.
Immediately west of Tokyo, Yamanashi Prefecture is in central Honshu, the main island of Japan. The northern half of Mt. Fuji (known as the more scenic view—like Mariah Carey, we all have our "better side"), as well as the five lakes at the foot of Mt. Fuji is in Yamanashi, making the prefecture the best place to view Mt. Fuji. The fertile lands of Yamanashi produce delicious fruits that Yamanashi is famous for. Kisvin is located in Koshu City, the heart of Japanese wine making (let's call it the Napa Valley of Japan), producing about 30% of the country's wines.
Initially dreaming of becoming a stand-up comedian, Saito attended Waseda University, but dropped out after 3 years. Greatly inspired by the wine grape harvesting tour her French teacher at Waseda took a group of students to in Corsica, Saito enrolled at the Department of Viticulture and Enology at California State University, Fresno, and after graduation, she was recruited by Kisvin CEO Ogihara who came to meet her in California after reading Saito's diary-like wine-making blog.
Saito took advantage of the delays in starting the winery by studying in the Burgundy region for a year, further honing her skills. She came back to Japan, but the first year of wine making, she was unable to taste the wines as she was pregnant. She could smell and see though, and relied on trusted members to taste for her, and worked based on their observations. She gave birth the day after wine-making ended on that first year at the company. As a single mother, she uploaded pictures of her checking the vineyards while carrying her child on her back on the company website, in hopes to show the difficult balance of motherhood and work.
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High-quality grapes make for simple brewing
On a land almost 5 hectares, Kisvin grows Chardonnay and Koshu for white wines, Pinot Noir and Syrah for reds, and Zinfandel for rosés. Because they believe that high-quality grapes make for simple brewing, they are meticulous about their grape-growing. They follow science and biology, and believe in doing everything for a reason. No labor or expense is spared; for their Chardonnays and Koshus, they hand cover each bunch with specially-designed umbrellas to protect them from direct sunlight and morning dew. No decision they make is frou-frou or impractical, every decision is vital and backed by science. They even have a system where they can adjust the height of the pergola depending on the height of the person tending it!