Nagano region, Japan (13) Saint Cousair

We arrived at St Cousair just before sunset on a crisp winter’s day. This is a winery with a view, perched on the top of a hill. There’s an interesting story behind it, too. It was established in 1990 in Izuno village, at 630 m altitude.

Ryozo Kuze founded the winery. He was originally from Tokyo, but it was his love of skiing that brought him to Nagano. He often visited as a student and decided he wanted to open a skiing chalet. So, in 1975, Ryozo opened a ski lodge, named Kuze Pension, in Madarao Kōgen, Nagano.

One of his guests, Miyumi, ended up becoming his wife. He married her and they ran the Pension together. But things became difficult in their marriage: she didn’t like the intensity of the lifestyle so she returned to Tokyo with their young child. He was devastated, but she said that if he quit the job of running the chalet she would return to Nagano.

Left with little choice, he quit the chalet, and she came back to Nagano. But they had to find a new job. At that time the apple jam made by Mayumi was incredibly popular, so they began to make jam to sell. They also travelled to Europe, and visited Bordeaux and Normandy, and Burgundy

So Ryozo changed his dream. Instead of running a ski chalet, he wanted to live off the land. He realized that agriculture would only work if they added value by making something from the produce. So, in addition to the jam manufacturing, which was going well, wine suddenly became an attractive option.

Ryozo started growing vines in 1989 and built the winery in 1990. In the early days he was helped by a German consultant, and as a result began growing Riesling, Kerner and Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder).

But saddled with large amounts of debt, Ryozo was in trouble when the economy took a turn for the worse. He became very depressed, and it was at this point he became a Christian. This changed his life, and gradually the company worked its way out of trouble. His faith is clearly evident when you visit: there’s a chapel building on site, and also all the bottle labels carry a bible verse on it.

Later, in 1996 they changed their strategy after getting advice from leading winery Mercian, and decided to grow Chardonnay instead of the German varieties. They now have 8 ha of Chardonnay in a vineyard called Ooiri. They also started growing some Pinot Noir in 2007 – they’d pulled the previous plantings out in 1996.

St Cousair Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes 2017 Nagano, Japan
From 30 year old vines, which for vinifera is very rare in Japan. Refined nose with fine spicy notes. Bright citrussy, mineral palate with lemon and pear. Very good acidity and well integrated oak. Stony, bright and appealing. Some pineapple on the finish. 90/100

St Cousair Chardonnay Vieilles Vignes 2018 Nagano, Japan (barrel sample)
Very fresh and vivid with spice and nuts. The spicy oak needs more time to resolve. It’s a little bit reductive now but could be really good. 88-91/100

St Cousair Chardonnay Barrel Fermentation 2003 Nagano, Japan
This is powerful, nutty and has lovely citrus fruit with some appley notes, as well as peachy richness. Mature and savoury, and really delicious. 92/100

St Cousair Rouge 2017 (not released yet)
This is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Sappy and bright with nice freshness. It’s Loire-like with redcurrant and cherry notes and nice brightness. Has a trace of green. 88/100

St Cousair Rouge NV Iitsuna, Chikuma River, Nagano, Japan
Blend of 2014 and 2015, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Fresh and lively with some juicy fruit. Nicely expressive with good acidity and raspberry and red cherry notes. Has a bit of grip, but overall it’s pretty elegant and refined. Nice weight. 90/100

Cidre Bramley & Fuji 2017
Off-dry with nice bite, and a sweet apple character, as well as some almond hints. Nice stuff.

Cidre Izuna Apple 2017
Fuji and Kosaka apples. This has quite rich flavour of baked apples but with a hint of sweetness and a nice bitter edge. Very stylish.

Cidre Takubo 2017
Fuji apples, farmed organically, with no sulfites. Tangy and bright with a juicy edge and a nice bitter twist. Some richness here with baked apples and tinned pears. Finishes warm and a bit savoury.

Cidre Izuna Apple Mapore
This is a red-fleshed variety. Juicy and zesty with a sherbert-like quality. Tangy and high acid and a little bitter, with a grapefruit edge.

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Nagano Wine Region (2019)

Nagano Wine Region (2018)

 

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