Suntory have unveiled a new wine that they have developed with Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) called Century. The wine celebrates a century of grape cultivation at Suntory and will be on sale from December 1st (18,900 yen/$226 a bottle). There are only 1,200 bottles available. This is the first time that Suntory has co-produced a wine with another winery. The two wine producers jointly blended grapes from Suntory’s Tomi No Oka Winery in Kai, Yamanashi Prefecture with those produced in Shiojiri, Nagano Prefecture, both in central Japan. Suntory has had business ties with Chateau Lafite since 1985, establishing mutual cooperation and exchange in traditions of wine. Over the ensuing years, Suntory has conducted marketing and sales of Domaines Barons de Rothschild wines in Japan.
Legend has it that grape-growing in Japan began in 718 CE, in Katsunuma, Yamanashi Prefecture and Japan’s first commercial wineries appeared in the Meiji era (1868-1912) as part of the county’s attempts to westernise its agricultural base; now it has more than 200 wineries are in a dozen regions, from Hokkaido in the far north to Miyazaki in the south. Japan has to cope with the limited availability of land being available for vineyards and domestic wine production is developing.
Suntory’s business started with wine in 1907 when their founder Shinjiro Torii introduced the Japanese to Akadama Port Wine (the current Akadama Sweet Wine). In 1936, Shinjiro joined Zenbei Kawakami, the “father of Japanese wine growing”, in initiating management of the Suntory Tomi No Oka Winery vineyard in the Tomi No Oka region of Yamanashi Prefecture, near Mount Fuji.
At first French grapes were planted but now their range is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Black Queen (a Japanese red grape) Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Koshu (Koshu was introduced to Japan from China over 1000 years ago), and Sauvignon Blanc. In 1975, the vineyard successfully harvested grapes infected with noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea, another first in Japan.
Suntory’s Tomi 1997, the premier product of the winery, became the first Japanese wine to win a Gold Award at Les Citadelles du Vin 2003 international wine and spirits competition in Bordeaux, France. The vineyard covers about 150 hectares and lies on volcanic loam with clay, silt, and sand. Tomi No Oka in is one of the least rainy regions in Japan-ideal conditions for viticulture. A ring of high mountains (the Japanese Southern Alps, Yatsugatake, Mt. Fuji, and Okuchichibu) protects Tomi no Oka from rain clouds.
In 1983, Suntory assumed management of Château Lagrange in Saint Julien, becoming the first non-Western company to operate a Bordeaux Grand Cru Château (see my Blog: Chateau Lagrange, The Knights Templar and Japan). Since 1988, they have handled the operation of Weingut Robert Weil in Rheingau, Germany, as well. They also jointly operate two French châteaux, Château Beychevelle (Saint Julien) and Château Beaumont (Haut Medoc), as well as one négociant, Barriere Freres.
This is not Chateau Lafite’s first venture into creating a Grand Cru from Asia – in 2009 they partnered with CITIC, China’s largest state-owned investment company, on over 60 acres of vines on the peninsula of Penglai in Shandong province. The Penglai peninsula is on its easternmost tip of the province and wine companies there already produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Some say the region is China’s Bordeaux. The latitude of Penglai is the same as Bordeaux and the Napa Valley – 37º.
It will be interesting to see what these wines are like – I will keep you posted!