Nagano wine region, Japan (4) – Kusunoki Winery


Nagano wine region, Japan (4) – Kusunoki Winery

Shigeyuki Kusunoki

Shigeyuki Kusunoki started his vineyard in 2004, and then built his winery in 2011. This is a second career for Shigeyuki, who was a salary man for 20 years working in aircraft leasing. But he got bitten by the wine bug and decided to move back to his home town to make wine. The winery is nicely situated, surrounded by mountains in Suzuka City.

Currently he has 5 hectares and is expanding; this year it will be up to 6 hecatres. Around 40 tons go through the winery each vintage, resulting in an annual production of around 30 000 bottles.

Shigeyuki decided that he’d benefit from some study, so he did a winemaking degree at Adelaide University. He’s not from a farming family so had to start by renting land. ‘This area is very famous for table grapes and apples,’ he says, ‘so at first it was difficult to get land to plant vines. So I have 30 plots and each vineyard is very small, spread all over Suzuka city. At first it was very difficult to remember where they all were!’

His vineyards are a mixture of Smart Dyson trellising (he doesn’t like VSP), and some pergola too. ‘I try to get more sunlight on the leaves,’ he says.

I really like the wines, but Shigeyuki isn’t yet totally satisfied. ‘For whites the quality of the grapes are getting better every year, and each wine shows the varietal character,’ he says. ‘But for red wines, they show the grape character, but the colour is still light and the Cabernet Sauvignon lacks the strength it should have. For Pinot Noir the result is different every year.’

He likes soft, elegant wines so tries to avoid green characters in his reds. He keeps the grapes on the vines longer than usual, so the grapes can reach flavour ripeness. ‘It’s kind of a gamble: the longer I keep the grapes on the vines, the less acidity they have,’ he says. ‘The pH goes up and this is risky.’

Kusunoki Semillon 2017
10% alcohol. Delicate citrus fruit aromatics here. Taut and bright with high acidity and a lovely lemony precision. This is really lean with high acidity, but it has a delicacy and really attractive citrus fruits. Great precision here with some textural depth and fine green herbal hints. 90/100

Kusunoki Riesling 2017
12% alcohol. Lively aromatic limey nose. The palate has great intensity with keen acidity and lovely crisp lemon and lime fruit, together with some minty hints. Juicy, dry and vital with a slight nervousness around the edges. Lovely wine. 91/100

Kusunoki Kisho Sparkling Wine NV
Chardonnay, blend of 2013 and 2014. Matured on lees for at least 25 months (disgorged in batches). Rich, toasty, peachy nose with lively citrus and spice. On the palate this is bold and focused with nice citrus but also some richer apple, nut and spice characters. Lots of flavour here, but it isn’t heavy at all. Unusual and delicious. 89/100

Kusunoki Hitakihara Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2016
80% Sauvignon, designed to go well with Japanese food. Aromatic and textural with a rounded, slightly nutty edge to the tangerine and pear fruit. Has a smooth mid-palate. Midweight and mellow, this is very appealing. 89/100

Kusunoki Chardonnay 2015
This is rounded, smooth and textural with subtle mealy, vanilla notes from the barrel meshing well with soft white peach and lemon notes on the palate. Quite broad but still fine with nice delicacy. Really refined with a sense of harmony, but the oak needs to settle down. 92/100

Kusunoki Chardonnay 2014
This is pretty stylish with subtle nut and meal characters as well as pear and peach fruit. Really harmonious and appealing with good acidity. It’s a restrained, harmonious wine with a subtle personality. Lovely balance here. 93/100

Kusunoki Cuvée Speciale Chardonnay 2014
This was one barrel (twice used already) that was very different. This is very fine. It’s fresh and vivid with bright citrus and pear fruit, and also well integrated spicy oak characters, too, although they are very much in the background. Very fine and quite mineral with a lovely mouthfeel. Fresh but harmonious. Such a beautifully poised wine with lovely acid structure. 94/100

Kusunoki Pinot Noir 2014
Pale cherry red with some orange in the colour. Sweetly aromatic nose bringing together sweet cherry fruit with warm spices, herbs and a touch of undergrowth. The palate is sappy and quite savoury with a smoky, cedary, herby edge to the subtle, smooth cherry and berry fruits. Savoury and quite developed, but very nicely balanced and quite appealing, albeit in a distinctive style. Just ignore the colour. 91/100

Kusunoki Pinot Noir 2011
As yet unreleased because at the beginning it had too much tannin and oak from new barrels. Pale red with some orange/brick red. Has a very pretty, slightly malty, sweet cherry fruit nose. Quite developed. Structured and savoury with a grippy edge to the spicy cherry fruit on the palate. This has good acidity and weight, and it’s drinking well in this mature phase of its life. 90/100

Kusunoki Cuvée Speciale Cabernet Franc 2012
12% alcohol. Pale in colour. Fresh, supple and very elegant with some leafy/sappy notes alongside raspberry and red cherry fruit, together with some savoury spiciness. Juicy and supple with a slight sanguine character. This has fine delicacy, and is very attractive as a fresh, pretty expression of Cabernet Franc. Real finesse here. 92/100

Kusunoki Merlot 2015
Lively, assertive sweet berry fruit nose with a nice, bold fruity character. Has a slight herby, ashy twist with some herbal characters and a touch of earth. Sweet open, spicy berry fruits to the fore. Very open fruit here and lovely weight, but the palate doesn’t seem totally pure. 86/100

Kusunoki Merlot Cuvée Masako 2015
The vineyard here was planted on abandoned rice paddy. This means that it has a layer of clay, which can give a special character to the wines. This is beautifully fresh, fine, sappy and elegant with pure red cherry and blackberry fruit with a green edge, but with the green characters really nicely integrated. Harmonious and elegant with finely grained structure and good acidity. Delicate and expressive with lovely weight and freshness. 93/100

Kusunoki Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
This has supple red berries and blackcurrant on the nose, with hints of cedar and wax. It’s a lighter style, combining fruit and non-fruit characters, and nice green notes. Warm, rounded and spicy with lovely balance. Mellow and elegant. 91/100

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