We are delighted to present our first ever listing from Japan: Domaine Takahiko, Yoichi Nana-Tsu-Mori, a very special Pinot Noir created by Takahiko Soga from his vines in the southern uplands of the island of Hokkaido.
Takahiko Soga has become the undisputed master of Japanese Pinot Noir in just over a decade. The son of winemaker parents who own Obusé Winery in Nagano Prefecture, Takahiko first studied microbiology at the University of Tokyo, but he was already fatally bitten by the wine bug. Following his studies, he joined Bruce Gutlove at Coco Farm Winery, just north of Tokyo, where he stayed for 10 years and was made cellar master.
During this time, he travelled all over Japan and the world, and one meeting in particular would change the course of his life – his encounter with the Jura master Pierre Overnoy. Impressed and touched by the purity of his wines, he returned to Japan intent on finding the best climate for the cultivation of vines, with the dream of founding his own estate.
His research led him to Hokkaido, the northern island of the Japanese peninsula, and in 2010 was born the Takahiko Estate. In the vineyard as in the cellar, Takahiko shows meticulousness, working with the precision of a jewellery maker, and always in harmony with the seasons. “I wish to be a winemaker who produces wine as quietly as possible, a craftsman with his own philosophy,” he muses. His “quiet” aspiration nevertheless produces wines which create quite a stir. With a production never exceeding 9,000 bottles, these very rare bottles are usually snatched up almost immediately.
Due to regional differences between Hokkaido and the rest of Japan, the soil and weather around Hokkaido provide different growing conditions for the fruit cultivated there.
At the northern tip of Japan, Hokkaido is located on similar latitudes to major American and European cities. It is the coldest region in Japan with an annual mean temperature of 10.0ºC, and with four distinct seasons, no rainy season and a cool, refreshing summer with low humidity. Grapes are harvested from early September to early November.
Hokkaido has two volcanic zones, along which many volcanoes and hot springs exist; it is home to a variety of mountains, extensive wetlands, and forests, and surrounded in all four directions by the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk. With expansive farmland, it is referred to as the breadbasket of Japan.
The Domaine Takahiko vineyard is 4.6 ha of agricultural land located in Yoichi Town in Hokkaido Prefecture which Takahiko Soga named Nanatsumori. Here, he and his team produce 13 strains of Pinot Noir from 12,000 vine trees, all cultivated chemical-free.
The vineyard is planted on a hilltop at 60 m asl on clay and gravelly sand soils, over a volcanic andesite bedrock, 4 km from the Sea of Japan. Yoichi is relatively warm compared to the rest of Hokkaido, with little rainfall throughout the year. Surrounding mountains protect the vineyards from sea breezes and strong winds. The crops, therefore, aren’t as susceptible to diseases. The northern climate also leads to heavy snowfall in winter, preventing frost damage. Finally, the volcanic clay with weathered gravel and sand on top of andesite parent rock, contributes to good drainage.
Takahiko describes his wine as having “umami” — a word rooted in Japan’s culinary identity. Brewing wine that expresses the Japanese climate and the beauty of Japanese food is key to his philosophy. Seasonality is key throughout Japan’s culinary scene, which Soga also aims to express through his wine. “I would like to brew wine that tastes as if you’re walking by Japanese shrines and temples in each of the four seasons,” he says.
Soil and water play a key role in the flavor profile of their grapes. The soft water and soft volcanic soil these grapes are grown in result in soft wines which easily expresses umami.
Takahiko believes that we must be at one with nature and adapt to environmental changes. He insists that farming methods which rely on chemical pesticides are not sustainable. Grapes are handpicked; the winemaking ko utilizes wild yeast, 40-day maceration in vats, whole cluster fermentation, little to no sulfur dioxide addition and natural fermentation as much as possible. The wines are then matured for one year in French oak barrels that have seen several wines, with an additional 5% matured in new oak barrels. Bottling happens by gravity, without fining or filtration.
*Exclusive to the UK.
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