If you're a wine enthusiast, you know that the world of wine is constantly evolving, from new grape varieties to innovative winemaking techniques. But discovering wine trends in Japan and around the globe can be a challenge if you don’t know where to start. That’s why GoConnect caught up with Frédéric Cayuela to discuss the latest and greatest in the world of wine. A renowned expert who is the Japan account manager at Berry Bros. & Rudd and an instructor at Academie du Vin, he has 13 years' experience in the wine industry in France, Singapore, and Japan. In our conversation with him, we found out about the most prominent wine-producing regions of Japan, some changes that are likely to affect the global wine industry, and how to become a more sophisticated consumer of the beverage.
What are the strengths of Japanese wines? Which varieties in particular are noteworthy?
I would say that the multitude of the terroirs and their clear identification are the strengths of Japanese wines. I have been and still am very surprised to discover the proper signature and the contrast between each wine region. Yamanashi, being the cradle of traditional Japanese viticulture, displays the uniqueness of the Koshu and Muscat Bailey A grape varieties. Interestingly, the signatures of Hokkaido and Nagano, in contrast, are more related to international varieties such as Pinot Noir for the first, and Merlot and Chardonnay for the latter.
What Japanese wines do you recommend?
Among the 400 wineries in Japan, local winemakers who work with high precision produce some excellent gems. I have been amazed by the sparkling wines and by the Chardonnays made by the Kusunoki Winery located in Nagano. Another notable production in Nagano is the Chardonnay from the Sun Sun Winery.
Up north, Hokkaido carries some of the prettiest Pinot Noirs in the world, with some of them being renowned internationally, as is the case with Domaine Takahiko in Yoichi. But I could also mention the beautiful Pinot Noir from the Camel Farm Winery in Yoichi and the Yamazaki Winery in Mikasa.
If you are new to unique flavors of traditional Japanese wines, I would recommend those made from Koshu grapes from Katsunuma—to be more specific, those from L'Orient Winery, Mercian, and Marufuji Winery.
What do you think will be the most popular wine in the future?
Due to global warming, I would say that late ripening grapes might be more attractive in the future. This is effectively the case with grape varieties such as the very late ripening Touriga Nacional from Portugal, which is now allowed in some blends in Bordeaux. Ultimately, grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which is already extremely popular, will continue to grow. However, we might also see some old indigenous and traditional grape varieties coming back in the vineyards.
Did natural disasters, such as those in California during previous years, affect the price of some wines?
Indeed, hazards in the vineyards are creating more and more scarcity. This is clearly impacting the price of grapes, as well as of finished wines. This unfortunate trend is very common in California, especially with the smoke taint from forest fires. Hazard pressure is also happening more and more regularly in Old World regions such as Burgundy. This was the case for the vintage 2021, which happened to be the lowest production since 1989.
There is a big trend in Japan for natural wine consumption. What will affect this movement in the future?
The market for natural wines is very interesting and developing quite well at the moment. Customers are often looking for the authenticity of the terroirs without any adulterations. However, this is a new sector where quality can vary drastically. Seasoned winemakers and deep analysis of production are fundamental for the success of natural wines.
How can a normal wine enjoyer expand their knowledge of wine tasting?
As a certified wine instructor at the Academie du Vin in Tokyo, I often have the chance to teach international certifications to people who are not working in the wine industry. I think this is a common practice, especially in Asia, where we often meet a lot of the population investing in wine education and certifications. However, the experience of tasting wine is also a great, fun way to educate yourself!
What are the opportunities for Japanese wine in the domestic and international market?
Japanese wine quality is actually very high. Japanese winemakers often studied abroad, came back to Japan, and applied their knowledge with minute precision. However, the high humidity on the main island can create high disease pressure risks in the vineyards. For this reason, production is generally not very high and the price of the Japanese wines tends to be relatively higher than the average of the Old World. These criteria are fine for local consumption, as we are seeing more Japanese people shifting from sake and beer to wine. However, the price might be less attractive to international markets where Old World countries, and wine-emerging countries such as Chile or Argentina are overwhelmingly more attractive and known.
Van Anh Hoang