Nagano, Japan: 496 Winery, Cyclo Vineyard

496 Winery is run by Noriyuki Iijima, who was a professional pursuit cyclist riding for the Japanese team. With his wife Yuko he set up a winery last year, after making wine in a custom crush facility.

His speciality as a cyclist was the 4 km pursuit, but this can be quite dangerous. He retired after an injury and the couple moved to Nagano to research their dream of starting a winery. Nori had developed a taste for wine while he was on the road. He attended cycling championships in lots of countries and really enjoyed the parties before and after the competitions. ‘Wine makes people happy,’ he says. He hoped some day he could make a wine that would make people happy.

They settled in Yaehara and planted a vineyard in 2014, which they named the Cyclo Vineyard. The winery is called 496: when it is pronounced in Japanese, this number sounds like Cyclo, and it’s also a perfect number in mathematics.

They have just over 2 hectares of vines, and five varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Harmo Noir (a cross developed in Yamanashi prefecture that’s Zweigelt x Cabernet Sauvignon; this was planted because it was the only plant material left) They aren’t planning to expand their vineyard any further, because they want to do everything themselves. Last year they crushed seven tons. Yaehara is at 660-670 m altitude. It’s an area well known for rice production. Soils are heavy clay, and the vineyard is on a SE-facing slope.

‘Many people thought this area wasn’t good for fruit,’ says Nori, ‘but St Emilion has lots of heavy clay.’ They don’t use any chemical herbicides, pesticides or insecticides, just sulfur and Bordeaux mixture.

Nori learned about making wine during a year working at Villa d’Est winery in Nagano, and he also studied at the Nagano Technology Centre for five years. Their first vintage was 2015, and this and the next four were made at a custom crush facility.

We began with a cider. In Nagano there are two dedicated cideries, and 25 wineries that also make cider. They have a good contract farmer.

496 Winery Cyclo Vineyard Cider
Fuji apples from Nagano, traditional method. Bright, fruit-driven and quite dry with lovely pure flavours of crisp apple with good acidity. Very bright and compact with nice focus and good concentration. Very stylish. 8/10

496 Winery Pursuit Sauvignon Blanc 2019 Nagano, Japan
12% alcohol. This shows nice purity with fresh, clean primary fruit. There is an appealing aroma of pear drops and passionfruit. Clean and bright with good acidity. Very nice fruit intensity here. Give this time and I think it will really show its best. 89/100

496 Winery Pursuit Chardonnay 2019 Nagano, Japan (barrel sample)
This is their barrel-fermented Chardonnay – they also make one just in tank. This is crisp and focused with nice citrus fruit and good acidity, but also some spicy nuttiness with a savoury, slightly cedary edge to the fruit. 86/100

496 Winery Pursuit Chardonnay 2019 Nagano, Japan (tank sample)
This is the tank-fermented Chardonnay. It shows lovely fine, fresh, stony citrus fruits with some appley hints. Nice focus with good fruit and a mineral edge. 90/100

496 Winery Amanda Merlot 2019 Nagano, Japan (tank sample)
10 days maceration. Barrel aged, 50% new oak. Some roast coffee and red cherry on the nose. Shows appealing red berry and cherry fruit showing good acidity, but the vanilla and spice from the oak is currently a bit obvious. Give this some time to settle down and I think this will be a very nice wine. 88/100

496 Winery Pursuit Harmo Noir 2019 (tank sample)
Bright, vivid and juicy with lovely vibrant raspberry and red cherry fruit. This is crisp and well balanced with good acidity. There’s a lovely purity to this wine with vibrancy and focus. Very enjoyable. 90/100

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