Nagano region, Japan (6) Funky Château


Nagano region, Japan (6) Funky Château

Toyohiko (Toyo) and Micchi Kanehashi are running one of the top wineries in Nagano: Funky Château, in Aoki Village. They were working in Tokyo – Toyo as a music producer, making tunes for commercials and movie scores, and Micchi as an orthopaedist. But they loved wine, and one day wanted to make their own. They reached the point where this dream was to become reality in 2005, but they had to decide where to go. Hokkaido showed promise, but it was just too far from Tokyo – Toyo wanted to keep working in music. So, at the ages of 47 and 48 they moved to Nagano to start a winery.

Their inspiration was French and Italian wines, and specifically those made with minimal intervention. Joly, Cornelissen and Gravner were among their influences. So they decided to buy land just beside the vineyard of Manns in Higashiyama, which makes very good wines. It has very good drainage and it’s at 800 m. They now have 4 hectares here. They also have 3.5 hectares of grapes at Ueda, which is warmer, where they grow Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, as well as Merlot and Semillon.

They were looking to have a winery surrounded by vineyards, and their current site proved to be perfect. The winery, which is beautifully designed (it’s 9 m high inside), was built in 2011. Viticulture is basically organic, with no herbicides or insecticides. They imported their plant material from Riversun in New Zealand.

The red wine barrel regime is usually 24 for reds, but Pinot Noir gets 18 months. They think that Cabernet Sauvgnon and Cabernet Franc have great potential in Ueda because they can wait as long as possible for harvest, because of the free-draining soils and low rainfall. They’d like to grow more Syrah and Sangiovese. Usually no sulfur is added until bottling, but Pinot Noir is an exception because this can be a problem wine.

We tasted through some barrels.

Semillon 2018
From a 500 litre Damy barrel. Very fine and expressive with some spice and nut notes, and lovely lemony fruit. Has nice intensity and texture. 91-93/100

Syrah 2017
Whole cluster with no added sulfites. Fresh, vivid and peppery with a bit of oak showing. Lovely intensity here. 90-92/100

Cabernet Franc 2017
Lovely brightness with black fruits and some chalkinesss. Blackcurrant notes. Nice focus and weight. 90-92/100

Merlot 2017
Good concentration here. Structured yet pretty with sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit, and a smoothness to the palate. 89-91/100

Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
From Taransaud T5 barrel. A little bit oxidative with some VA. Otherwise nice fruit. A problem wine.

Bottled wines

Funky Château Chardonnay 2015 Nagano, Japan
From 9 year old vines. They think that finally the wine is expressing the terroir with this vine age. No fining or filtration. This is supple and refined with focused mealy, citrussy fruit and some stony minerality. Lovely notes of white peach and pear with good acidity and nice tension. Has lovely complexity here with layers of flavour and a savoury edge. This is very fine. 94/100

Funky Château Strate Cassée 2016 Nagano, Japan
90% Semillon, 10% Sauvignon, fermented in barrel. Amazing nose with lovely lime, spice and exotic herbs. Quite seductive. Vivid, concentrated, linear palate with powerful lime, hints of honey, and a slight oiliness to the texture, complemented by some spicy oak. High acidity. Such an impactful wine. 93/100

Funky Château Viognier 2016 Nagano, Japan
From Aoki Village. It is a difficult variety to grow here, and yields erratically. But this is quite beautiful, with pear and apricot on the nose and a light but textured palate showing bright, expressive pear, apricot and spice as well as some lemony freshness. Quite lovely with good typicity. Lighter style. 92/100

Funky Château Riesling 2017 Nagano, Japan
From Udea. Slightly oxidative, appley nose with nice focus to the pear and apple fruit. The palate is fresh and oxidative with herbs, lemons and baked apple character. Very appealing in this somewhat oxidative style. 89/100

Funky Château Pinot Noir 2013 Nagano, Japan
This is quite distinctive with a hint of Madeira and wax on the nose, as well as notes of herbs and mint. The palate is supple with sweet cherries and subtle notes of savoury earth and herbs. There’s quite a harmony to this wine, which shows some developed characters but despite this still has fruit and freshness. There’s a seriousness to this wine, and the savoury notes are really attractive. 92/100

Funky Château Merlot 2014 Nagano, Japan
Brooding and quite serious, with some savoury, spicy, earthy hints sitting under dense blackcherry and blackberry fruit. This is quite savoury, but there’s some appealing fruit here too. Complex and beautifully poised, this has nice freshness and acidity hand in hand with more developed, savoury flavours, and it’s quite delicious in a very grown up way. 93/100

Funky Château Cabernet Franc 2015 Nagano, Japan
Mellow, elegant nose with some sweet cherry and plum fruit, and some subtle malty hints. The palate has lovely warm elegance with strawberries, herbs and sweet berries. It’s seamless but has good structure and acid in the background. Mature now, but no hurry to drink up: it’s in a very mellow, elegant space. This is very classy indeed: the extended elevage has worked very well, bringing harmony to the wine. 93/100

Funky Château Cabernet Franc 2016 Aoki, Chikuma River, Nagano, Japan
Lovely structure and texture here: this has ripeness, smoothness and freshness, with some attractive oak playing a supporting role. It’s harmonious and elegant showing red cherry and raspberry fruit, with some silkiness and a touch of vanilla spice on the finish. Harmony is the key. 93/100

Funky Château Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Nagano, Japan
15% Cabernet Franc in the blend here. Strongly savoury with a grippy blackcurrant fruit character. Quite tight with firm tannins and a gravelly, spicy edge. Some blackcurrant bud, here too. This is quite firm and unyielding, and I don’t think the tannins are going to resolve before the fruit goes. 87/100

Find these wines with

Nagano Wine Region (2019)

Nagano Wine Region (2018)


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