Visiting Swiss-Mura winery in Azumino, Nagano, Japan
I visited this interesting project with Chiharu Uchikata (below), who explained the history of the company. It was initially established as a cooperative to support apple farmers from Azumino City and Matsunoto City, both of which are famous for their apples.
Japanese apples are celebrated for their quality, but they have to have a perfect cosmetic appearance. What about those apples that have imperfections? In the past they’d be discarded. So Swiss-Mura began to help take these rejected apples from the farmers of Azusajawa Village, which was later absorbed into Matsunoto City, and process them into juice.
The Azumi Apple Company was established in 1989, and made lots of kinds of apple juice – right from the beginning they started to bottle by farmer. Now, three-quarters of their production remains apple juice, and they have another factory where they process the juice.
But they are also a winery: Swiss-Mura. They got winery certification from a winery in Shiojiri who were about to stop production. Initially they started purchasing grapes from Shiojiri and also some from Yamagata prefecture.
In 1988 Suntory had tried to encourage farmers to grow wine grapes, and helped them by providing planting materials. But later they changed their policy and required fewer grapes, so there were grapes going, and Swiss-Mura supported those farmers by making wine from them. In 2015 Suntory pulled out altogether from this district.
The elevation in the Azumino Ikeda district, where the winery is, is 600 m and there are a lot of gravels in the soils. They process 60-80 tons of grapes a year, and 600 tons of apples. We spent some time in the vineyards where there were spectacular views of the alps in the background. Pruning was just finishing and the vineyards were looking very tidy.
They are looking to expand in the Misato region, where they already grow some Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Ryugan, as well as newer vineyards planted to Syrah and Sangiovese. Chihara thinks these both have good potential. The owner of the coop tips them off when farmers are stopping farming their vineyards, so they can get hold of them – otherwise they’d be chopped down and solar panels would be installed. These are a problem because they cause a lot of erosion (nothing grows in the soil under them).
Swiss-Mura Ryugan 2019 Nagano, Japan
With a short-skirt screwcap. This is slightly sweet with nice fruit and a slight stony character. The sweetness works well: it’s an appealing off-dry style with nice freshness and purity. 85/100 (Y1300)
[Azumino city used to be the main area for Ryugan and once there were 80 tons harvested. But Manns stopped buying Ryugan so many of the vineyards were pulled out. But recently the popularity has recovered so many wineries are looking to buy Ryugan.]
Swiss-Mura Sauvignon Blanc Deuxième 2019 Nagano, Japan
2 h skin contact, 2 weeks fermentation, aged in tank. 12% alcohol. Very light, primary and fruity with some pear drop and citrus character. Well made with zesty fruit and good acidity. Nice purity here. 86/100 (Y1700)
Swiss-Mura Chardonnay Deuxième 2018 Nagano, Japan
Barrel fermentation in old oak. This has nice fruit with some pear and white peach. The oak is only evident on the finish, with some vanilla and toast notes. Ripe and nicely textured with some smoothness on the palate. This is appealing and well made. 86/100 (Y1700)
Swiss-Mura Pinot Noir Deuxième 2018 Nagano, Japan
From Aokihara (31 year old vines), and Misato (23 year old vines). Pale cherry red with some brick red tints. Understated, supple and sappy with nice red cherries and herbs. Has a hint of earth and spice with a bit of grip on the finish. Lovely fruit purity here with some savoury notes, too. Delivers a lot of pleasure. 90/100 (Y1700)
Swiss-Mura Pinot Noir Premier 2018 Nagano, Japan
This is pale in colour. It has lovely bright fruit with cherries and strawberries, and some spicy structure. Nice brightness with good acidity. Has a tiny bit of development with a hint of earthiness, and some nice red cherry silkiness on the mid palate. An elegant style. 91/100 (Y2100)
Swiss-Mura Merlot Deuxième 2018 Nagano, Japan
16 year old vines. Bright, fruity and expressive with some savoury, spicy notes, a bit of tar and gravel, and nice supple berry and cherry fruit. There’s a slight meaty hint on the finish. Nice freshness. Shows a little early development. 88/100 (Y1700)
Swiss-Mura Merlot Premier 2018 Nagano, Japan
Old oak, but two-thirds is American. Nice density of fruit here. It’s quite structured and savoury, supported by some sweet oak with hints of coconut and spice. Nice freshness with some savoury, gravelly notes on the finish. I’m not completely convinced by the oak here, but the fruit is good. 87/100 (Y2100)
Ciders – all Y1500 for the half bottles
Pink Lady Cider
Fresh and vivid, this is fizzy with bright appley fruit and a bit of bite on the finish. Pure with lovely tannins and good acidity. Very fruity and pure. 7.5/10
This is very distinctive with some ginger and cinnamon hints as well as nice fleshy apple notes. Has a really interesting spicy character. Just off-dry with nice savoury hints. 7.5/10
Golden colour. Bold, tangy and very appley with some sweetness. Has a baked apple and spice character. Rich and quite delicious. Has lovely depth of flavour. 8/10