Uncorked: Shigekazu Misawa from Japan’s Grace Wine

Shigekazu Misawa is the fourth generation owner of  Grace, one of the best-known wineries in Japan. Located in Katsunuma, a town within the country’s premier wine region Yamanashi, southwest of Tokyo, the family-owned  winery was founded by the Misawa family in 1923. Having taking over from his father in 1989, Shigekazu has been a key figure in raising the profile of the country’s indigenous white grape Koshu, both at home and abroad. In an interview with dbHK,  Misawa talked about his family’s inextricable link with grapes, the best advice he got from Japanese Noble Prize winner Satoshi Omura, the restorative nature of Japan’s mighty mountains, and his life goal of making Yamanashi a world-class wine producing region.

What vintage are you?

1948 – three years after the World War II. There was very limited supply of essential goods, and many people died from hunger. I was born in Katsunuma, Yamanashi, the premier production region of wine in Japan, where my family had been making wines for years. The wine drunk today is very different from those days. Compared with those days, wine is consumed daily today. I believe this is a huge change I have observed over the years on wine in Japan.

I was born in September, the start of grape harvesting. Every time I have my birthday, I wonder about the strength of countryside to sustain life, and the meaning of words “the mother of production is the soil.” For some reason, many members of our family were born in autumn: my daughter in late September, my son mid-October, and my father late October. We all were born during grape harvesting.

What bottle sparked your love of wine?

Grace Koshu 1957. The wine my father made as the 3rd generation owner of the winery from the Koshu grape, the indigenous grape variety of Japan. From this wine, I feel my father’s love towards his home province and the Koshu grape itself. It also tells me that wine lives longer and is healthier than humans.

What would you be as a wine?

Koshu, meaning that I would like to be of benefit to Katsunuma, Yamanashi and Japan.

Where are you happiest?

My vineyards (in Akeno, Yamanashi) surrounded by the beautiful mountains of the Minami (Southern) Alps with a range of peaks at around 3,000 meters above sea level, as well as Mt. Kayagatake, Mt. Yatsugatake, and Mt. Fuji. In the vineyard, my heart and body are purified by the fresh and clean air, and the star-filled night sky gives me an unwavering peace of mind.

What’s your greatest vice?

My bad habit was not keeping notes from a young age. Now I can’t memorise what I learned from my younger days. Sometimes I even forget what I took a note of.

Best advice you ever got?

Dr. Satoshi Omura, the Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine in 2015 who was born in Yamanashi, taught me the importance of “high integrity and compassion.” I want to keep cultivating self-discipline to improve my personality and wisdom.

Your cellar’s underwater, which bottle would you dive in and save?

This is too realistic in Japan, especially these days when natural disasters frequently happen. I would rather invest more effort into solving the problem of why our drainage didn’t work than saving a bottle. But more than anything I value life. Anyway, as late Denis Dubourdieu, professor at the University of Bordeaux once told me about his father’s words, “the best wine is the wine I will make the following year” and “if asked what’s the good vintage, it is the latest vintage”.

What’s the best and worst thing about the wine business?

The best thing was in January 2010, when the export promotion of Koshu wines by Koshu Of Japan (KOJ) was finally formed in London. I was able to have the mission of leading so-called “state project of culture” by communicating the good quality of Japanese wines, and Japan itself as a culture in the mature London market. Thanks to the support from many people, luckily there has been no worst thing about the wine business yet.

What’s on your wine bucket list?

To make Yamanashi as a great wine producing region. I believe the most attractive part of making wine is in maturation because we can inspire drinkers/customers directly. All grape varieties in our vineyard have shown great potential through ageing. Currently Koshu is strongly associated with “refreshing” impression, but we would like to produce Koshu that shows more ageing potential.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

My wife, the Grace wine team, and Lynne Sherriff MW who works as an advisor for KOJ.

Personal satisfaction (Parker points – out of 100)?

50. Shingen Takeda, a pre-eminent warlord from Yamanashi in 16th Century during the period of warring states – who was said to be the strongest with exceptional military prestige – once said: “In the war, 50% victory is supreme, 70% is average, 100% is the worst.” This is because 70% victory will not motivate you efficiently, and 100% will make you too proud and arrogant, which could lead to a catastrophic defeat next time. I agree with this phrase.

Which wine would you like served at your funeral?

The ultimate Koshu wine. To express my gratitude to everyone I associated with in my life.

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