Grace Winery has a special place in my heart. I first wrote an article on Koshu, the white grape variety Grace pioneer alongside a small planting of Cabernet Franc, in 2015. Two years later, in January 2017, Shigekazu Misawa - an influential figure in the wine trade and the ambassador for the wine body Koshu of Japan - flew to England to have lunch with me and gift me the tank sample of his new vintage Koshu Kayagatake.
Shigekazu's daughter, Ayana Misawa, is the current head winemaker at Grace, which can trace its history back to 1923. Ayana is one of the world's most impressive and friendliest winemakers. Her attention to detail with all of her Koshu varietal white wines is showcased in the end product; here, in the final wine, everything is about layers and subtlety of flavour. Ayana makes some of the most memorable white wines I've ever tasted.
Grace Winery can be found in the Katsunuma province in Yamanashi, Japan. It is said that it was here where the Japanese wine industry was born. It was here where European viticulture, such as long cordon-training, Vertical Shoot Positioning and quality pruning methods began for Japan as recently as 1990. These modern methods retain the delicate characteristics of the Koshu grape in the resulting wines.
Koshu came over from Europe and found its new home on the volcanic soils of Katsunuma. Ayana says it is these soils, with good drainage, and the local climate that provide the perfect growing conditions for Koshu. Slow maturation over a long growing season and careful pruning on modern long cordon trained vines has helped to control quality and yield. The result is a wine with great flavour balanced by its sugars and acidity, which naturally occurred in the vineyard.
Koshu is a delicate variety and demands the preservation of its acidity, which makes it a great match with Japanese cuisine like sushi. Therefore Ayana ferments the wines in stainless streel, helping to preserve acidity and the grapefruit and savoury flavours of the Koshu grape.
The wine is then matured on its lees, in the case of the Kayagatake, for three months. This adds richness and complexity, as well as additional structure that makes it an even better match with food.
The wines here are generally low in alcohol (11-12% ABV) and always dry. Unlike much of continental Asia, where sweet wine is popular, the Japanese winemakers prefer to make dry styles.
Ayana Misawa's wines has affirmed Japan as the world-leader of quality drinks when it comes to subtlety, detail and elegance. Think of saké's huge breadth of style and flavour, its nuances and relationship with alcohol. Think of the smooth, layered flavours that make up the (rightly-so) premium Japanese whiskies. This is what Koshu white wines are: pure finesse.
I will urge you to taste a bottle!