In Nagano, Japan: Les Vins Vivants

Les Vins Vivants is a new venture in Tomi City, Nagano, Japan. Takahiro Ogino and his partner Tomoko are the people behind this winery and cidery. They are committed to making their wines and ciders naturally.

Takohiro and Tomoko

Initially, they worked in Auxamis restaurant in Tokyo. The owner was a pioneer who introduced natural wine into Japan in 1990, with Passion du Vin. He was a big fan of natural winegrowers such as Pacalet and Dard et Ribo. They started working there in 2004 and stayed for five years, and became big fans of natural wine.

Takahiro thought he’d like to make wine and started working with Grace Wine in Yamanashi. He studied winemaking for two years, and then viticulture for three years, and after leaving Grace headed off to France to explore. He ended up visiting the likes of Pacalet, Lapierre, Lapalu, Pierre Frick, Dard et Ribo and Miroirs.

The winery: since this picture was taken they have taken off the ‘ée’ from the end of the name: it is now La Roman

When he came back to Japan he decided to start his own winery in Tomi. For him, Yamanashi had become too warm. They bought land in 2015, but a shortage of plant material was a problem, and they could only begin planting in 2016. They have 3 hectares of vines. The varieties they most wanted to plant – Gamay and Chenin – are hard to get hold of. For example, they can only plant 30 Gamay vines each year because there just isn’t enough material available. Pinot Noir is currently their main variety, with 0.8 hectares. Eventually, they’d like to make a varietal Gamay.

So far they don’t have any wines from their own plantings: their vineyards will crop for the first time in 2020. But they have made some custom crush wines. In 2020 they will be able to harvest a barrel of Pinot, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, and these will be made in the brand new winery. It is eco-friendly, with a special fabric called rock wool insulating the building.

First we tried a natural cider they have made from Fuji apples (50%) with the rest other varieties. This has no additions. Initially this was very reductive, but after a while this disappeared, and the acid came to the fore. It’s very bright and crisp with nice flavour. There’s a bit of tannic grip. Lovely taut, focused cider with a fresh appley edge. 8/10

The grow some of the apples for cider themselves – and have planted apples as well as grapes, and try to farm the apples with as few agrochemicals as possible.

Chardonnay 2019 (tank sample)
12.7% alcohol. Whole bunch pressed with 30 ppm SO2 added at this stage at the request of the farmer who they are crushing for. There’s a slight ethyl acetate edge to this initially. But the palate has lemons, some apple, good fruit purity and nice acid line. Apparently it took three weeks for fermentation to begin.

Chardonnay 2019 (barrel sample)
Tank fermented and then goes to barrel. Lemony and bright with some appley notes and also a savoury, woody, spicy edge with some nuttiness. Has a brightness, but also savoury notes from the oak.

Then we tried two lots of the same wine, a whole cluster Pinot Noir. They added 20 ppm SO2 at the beginning, and it took 40 days for fermentation to finish. This has been separated into tank and barrel maturation after fermentation. The tank version is very volatile and stinky with sour cherry character. This is too volatile, with both acetic acid and ethyl acetate. The second (barrel) has volatile acidity too, with a sour cherry and plum characters and some vinegary notes on the finish. It’s less intense than the first, but still too volatile.

With a focus on natural wines, this will be a winery to watch in the future. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do with their own grapes, and I can’t wait to see a varietal Gamay!

See also:

Nakadanaso and Gio Hills Winery
496 Winery, Cyclo Vineyard
A big Nagano wine tasting at Tomi Wine Chapel
Nagomi Vineyards