Jul. 04, 2017

SUNTORY TOMI NO OKA WINERY "From the Site of Viticulture"
―Conversation With Winemakers Vol.3(Final): Talking about what lies behind the flavor at Lagrange and Tomi no Oka

Lagrange and Tomi no Oka
[Special interview]
Keiichi Shiina (Vice Chairman, Château Lagrange)
Naoki Watanabe (Oenologist, Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery)

Volume 3 of the dialogue between Shiina and Watanabe is a tasting match.
The two discuss the characteristics of the terroir and the each vintage’s weather from the winemaker’s unique perspective.
Their passion for wine spills through the lines of the dialogue on flavor and surrounding issues.


Left: Keiichi Shiina, Vice Chairman, Château Lagrange
Right: Naoki Watanabe, Oenologist, SUNTORY TOMI NO OKA WINERY

[Tomi No Oka Koshu 2015]

Shiina: A citrusy, smooth, elegant wine, with nicely balanced acidity.

Watanabe: That year, the weather was good to us. This wine is the result of planning how to get the best out of Koshu which was harvested perfectly ripe. We gently crushed whole bunches(with stems), and matured the wine sur lie for six months.

Shiina: I see. It’s good stuff. Koshu can be interesting.

Watanabe: We are planning to continue to improve the flavor concentration in the Koshu grapes and try out a longer bottle aging style as well.

Shiina: I’m looking forward to it.

[Tomi No Oka Koshu 2015]

[Japan Premium Koshu 2015]

Watanabe: We made this from grapes harvested relatively early, around Tomi no Oka and in the Minami-Alps. Don’t you think it has a fragrance a bit like kabosu lemons?

Shiina: The citrus bouquet is clear. It’s even better balanced than Japan Premium Koshu used to be.

Watanabe: That’s probably the effect of the sur lie. Characteristically, the freshness remains for longer. I think this will be one of our main Koshu styles.

Japan Premium Koshu 2015
Click here to purchase

Château Lagrange [Les Fleurs du Lac 2014]

Shiina: This is a white second label wine from Lagrange.

Watanabe: It has a sweet floral bouquet, acacia and oranges. The mouthfeel is fresh while also being sweet.

Shiina: We mainly used the grapes from young vines, and balanced it by adding some press wine.

Watanabe: It’s got richness too, and the strength of the tannins comes through characteristically from the middle through to the finish.

Shiina: From this vintage we started increasing the percentage of Sauvignons, aiming for a fresher, more linear style.

Watanabe: It’s powerful and well-built. Delicious.

Château Lagrange [Les Arums de Lagrange 2014]

Watanabe: The bouquet is of sweet grapefruits, just right for a Sauvignon blanc.

Shiina: We harvested very ripe grapes that year, getting fresh notes from a pure acidity and the fruity citrus nose. We wanted to emphasize the natural elegance.

Watanabe: It still keep its freshness and vivacity, and the structure continues through to the finish. Not so different from Koshu.

Shiina: We fermented it in barrels and kept it for eight months, with bâtonnage, so it probably has some nuances in common with the sur lie Koshu.

[Les Arums de Lagrange 2014]

Château Lagrange [Les Fleurs du Lac 2013]

Watanabe: The acacia blossom bouquet is stronger than the 2014, and the color is richer too.

Shiina: Heavy rains of this vintage caused a little Botrytis, which influenced the wine a bit. The percentages of Muscadelle and Semillon are higher than 2014, we find a softness like Muscat.

Watanabe: It’s floral.

Shiina: The grip comes through at the finish, with the characteristically light tannins.

Watanabe: The mouthfeel is fresh. There is a smooth, sweet flavor. The balance from the middle through to the finish really makes it.

[Les Fleurs du Lac 2013]

Château Lagrange [Le Haut Medoc de Lagrange 2013]

Shiina: 2013 was the hardest year in three decades. It rained a lot, and blooming was three weeks later than average, giving the grapes less time to reach optimum ripeness. We rose to the challenge of the harvest.

Watanabe: The acidity is like redcurrants, and the sweet bouquet like dates. The Cabernet comes through right away, and the powerful structure afterwards.

Watanabe: The acidity is like redcurrants, and the sweet bouquet like dates. The Cabernet comes through right away, and the powerful structure afterwards.

Shiina: Since it was such a tough year, if anything with the supple entry, you don’t realize it’s about 70% cabernet, with the freshness and the lift in this wine.

[Le Haut Medoc de Lagrange 2013]

[Tomi No Oka Red 2013]

Watanabe: 2013 was a dry season in Yamanashi.

Shiina: Nice color. It gets smoother and smoother as you drink—is that the Merlot ratio?

Watanabe: More a characteristic of the terroir. We reinforced the extraction a bit, making it a wine that’s both sweet and powerful.

Shiina: Bordeaux style all the way, I see.

Watanabe: I think it will go well with food like sukiyaki, with a touch of sweetness. The Haut Medoc really wants a good fatty steak.

Shiina: It’s really well made.

[Tomi No Oka Red 2013]

Château Lagrange [Château Lagrange 2013]

Shiina: Mainly Cabernet, with some Merlot and a little Petit Verdot.

Watanabe: There’s a nutty nuance to it.

Shiina: In the end, we managed to make a truly sophisticated wine with a lot of care for an aromatic balance of red fruit, floral notes and toasty nuances.

Watanabe: It’s got smoothness and sweetness from the entry, with a soft body remaining through to the finish. The balance of sweetness, acidity, and umami is brilliant. I can tell how much work went into it.

[Château Lagrange 2013]

[Tomi Red 2012]

Watanabe: It was a dry season. The grapes kept their fruitiness as they ripened, and we put the wine in barrels for 14 months—the long-aging type. This vintage is charming now, but will age well in the bottle.

Shiina: The color suggests a good strong wine. The ’13 was well made, but this vintage is more powerful and the tannin quality is even better.

Watanabe: Nice smooth attack and a sensation of concentration, no?

Shiina: Who knew this kind of intensity would come out in a Japanese wine? I think a little longer aging in bottle would make it even better.

[Tomi Red 2012]

Château Lagrange [Château Lagrange 2011]

Shiina: Spring came early that year and the grapes ripened fast, but we had to harvest early with rain and storms in September. Even so, the grapes were quite ripe, and the vintage is tasty and pleasant to drink.

Watanabe: The black fruit nuances are overwhelming compared to the ’13. The color is a bit darker too.

Shiina: The richness tells us the grapes were really ripe, don’t you think?

Watanabe: And the nose is like roasted coffee. The entry is smooth, with a little acidity, and good volume in the middle.

[Château Lagrange 2011]

[Tomi Red 2011]

Watanabe: 2011 was a really hard year. Temperatures were low and there were heavy rains at the end of August, with a lot of rain and low temperatures in late September too, so the grapes developed “ripe rot” and the harvest followed by sorting took us a really long time. The result is a nice nose and a touch of sweetness, but it’s quite powerful too.

Shiina: Sweet and round overall. Just right for drinking now.

Watanabe: It’s important to choose when to drink, too, isn’t it? The sweet bouquet is mainly of black fruit, and there’s a nice mouthfeel, I think.

[Tomi Red 2011]

The wines featured at the tasting

After the tasting

Shiina: I see that the Tomi no Oka Winery is making steady progress. For example, the points you want to improve with “Tomi” are clearer. You’re working out the ideas, starting with the wine’s true identity and value, and coming closer to something that will make the world see how amazing Tomi no Oka is. That’s the kind of winery I hope you will become.

Watanabe: The Lagrange whites taste as if the red winemakers’ image has been echoed there as well. As if the structure is the main aim, and there is a special character and individuality in all Bordeaux wines. If the characteristics of the terroir and the winemaker come out, that’s a big part of the wine’s value, and what we should be aiming at.

Shiina: Part of what’s interesting about wine is its individual stories.

Watanabe: The details of the terroirs and winemakers are part of the flavor, yes. I hope we’ll have a chance to do this again. Thank you.

Shiina: Thank you.

Related Links
Conversation With Winemakers Vol.1
Conversation With Winemakers Vol.2
Suntory Japanese Wine
Château Lagrange Grand Cru Classé Saint-Julien