Opened in 2017, by Kazuomi Fujimaki, Grape Republic’s mission is to encourage organic agriculture in Japan’s Yamagata prefecture
Before turning to viticulture and winemaking, Kazuomi Fujimaki spent years as a sommelier opening several restaurants in Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama. A long-time advocate and lover of natural wine, it comes as little surprise that Grape Republic is equally focused on producing exciting wines as it is restoring the since lost organic agricultural practices of Yamagata Prefecture.
“By producing a high-quality grape and natural wine from here, we would like to gather new farmers or new wineries and revitalize the increasing abandoned farmland. Eventually, collaborations with famous products of Nanyo City will also be developed and form a big winemaking area like “Grape Republic” throughout the city. That is our concept.” - Grape Republic
The region sits between 200-450m above sea level and is surrounded by mountains on three sides. The vines see hot summers and long cold winters. The soil, composed of mostly granite and schist has great drainage, therefore the vines are dry-farmed and harvested manually. Because of the short growing season, the wines possess a desirable lightness. The wines are incredibly well suited for food.
Staunch believers in organic farming, the vines never see pesticides, herbicides or insecticides. Nor do they use fertilizers. The wines are fermented with varying amounts of stem, and with nothing more than native yeast.
Early on in their production, Grape Republic, acquired 17 Spanish amphora, and are by no means shy in their use. Almost every cuvee is fermented in amphora and aged in stainless steel. Fujimaki believes that the small level of oxygenation that occurs in amphora allows for an unmatched complexity to show up in his wines.
As a response to industrialization, phylloxera, and colonialism Japan grows a considerable number of hybrid grapes. Luckily, because Japan lacks an appellation system, a system which has muddied the standards and practices for winemakers in France and Italy, Fujimaki is free to explore the massive potential of hybrid grapes and fermentation practices. Grape Republic uses both native grapes like Koshu and the long-used Muscat Bailey-A, as well as hybrid grapes introduced to Japan from abroad.
A little bit about the hybrids:
Steuben: Arriving in the 1940’s, it is the result of blending Wayne and Sheridan vines. A grape the boasts a honey-like sweetness and spiciness, the vines have an impressive cold-hardiness.
Niagara: A large and juicy white grape that comes from Concord. Niagara has a sweet and pleasant aroma and has been likened to Riesling, especially for its sometimes diesel aroma. Wines produced from Niagara are often described as juicy and pleasant.
Delaware: a somewhat tricky variety, the grape is pink in color with tender skins. Often producing low yields of fruit that is both sweet and sour. It is one of the more common grapes farmed in Japan with the highest production in Yamagata Prefecture.