I first had Sun Sun Winery’s Chardonnay Sur Lie 2015 blind at a friend’s party. I didn’t think it was from Burgundy but I did think it was from Europe. I was surprised to learn it was from Nagano, Japan.
I first visited Sun Sun Winery (link to website) in June 2018. Sun Sun Winery is located near the town of Shiojiri in the Kikyogahara valley in central Nagano prefecture. Interestingly, it was established and is owned by a company that operates retirement homes. This gives Sun Sun Winery a financial advantage which is apparent from its beautiful perch on the side of a mountain with vineyards running down towards a valley. The facilities include a restaurant with terrace seating, a tasting room and a shop as well as a spacious winery equipped with top-end equipment.
During this visit, I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Hideo Togawa, the head winemaker. Mr. Togawa has worked in the wine industry in both France and Japan for over 50 years and moved from Mercian, one of the larger wine producers in Japan, to Sun Sun Winery when the latter opened in 2011. He said that the high amount of rain makes growing grapes for wine in Nagano difficult. Nonetheless, he is hopeful that the altitude and the comparatively low rainfall of the particular site will produce good results.
So far, his bet seems right. While 2015 (Sun Sun Winery’s first vintage) and 2016 were poor years in Nagano with too much rain, Sun Sun Winery managed to produce respectable Chardonnay’s. 2017 was also not considered a great year. However, during a more recent trip in August 2018, I tried the 2017 Chardonnay that will be released later this year and found it very promising. It definitely has more intensity than the 2015 and 2016 vintages and for such a young wine showed interesting flavours that were variously described by those with me as pineapple, honey and caramel.
According to Togawa-san as of this past August, 2018 is shaping up to be one of the best growing seasons in Nagano. The weather had been good with plenty of sunshine and not too hot nights. The area also managed to escape some major typhoons. As a result, the berries were compact and not bloated with water as grapes can become when there is a lot of rain. Bloated grapes are juicy and delicious as eating grapes, but not so great as wine grapes because the water dilutes the flavors in the wine. I hope to go back during or after harvest to see how the season ends.