MINAMI-SANRIKU, Miyagi >> A winery in Miyagi Prefecture has used a unique method of aging its wine: underwater storage.
Minami-Sanriku Winery makes wine from grapes grown in the city and other areas and uses an oyster farm to keep its product at a constant temperature in the sea, where vibrations are transmitted through the water, resulting in a milder one Taste leads.
“We want to make the wine a new specialty of Minami-Sanriku,” said a spokesman for the winery.
At the end of April, in Shizugawa Bay in Minami-Sanriku, wine bottles in algae-covered baskets were pulled onto boats for oyster farming. The wine was submerged to a depth of about 32 feet for six months in a unique method known as “underwater aging”.
“The aging process is more than three times shorter than in a wine cellar, thanks to the vibrations caused by constant noises in the sea and the sea water temperature, which does not rise much even in summer,” said Michihiko Sasaki, president of the winery.
The winery is also run by Yuta Shoji, who is responsible for the winemaking. The two took over the Minami-Sanriku Wine Project, which was launched by the Local Vitalization Cooperator in 2017. The project was part of an effort to create new industries for reconstruction after the city was devastated by a tsunami following the catastrophic earthquake in Japan in 2011.
The project led to the development of a vineyard on the slopes of the city where the daily temperature fluctuations are large and therefore suitable for viticulture. The workers crushed the alkaline oyster shells and mixed them into the soil to help the grapes grow.
Shoji’s interest in wine as a hobby led him to become a winemaker. He quit his job with a book company in Tokyo in 2014, then worked at a grape farm in Ishikawa Prefecture and a winery in Yamanashi Prefecture, where he acquired his winemaking expertise. In 2017 he responded to an appeal for recruitment and became a member of the Local Vitalization Cooperator in the same year.
After the earthquake, Sasaki quit his job at a large company that makes musical instruments and moved to Sendai in 2014. Through his work selling wine glasses, he became interested in winemaking and joined the Local Vitalization Cooperator in January 2019. The following month the two founded the Minami-Sanriku winery.
Sasaki’s idea for underwater wine aging was inspired by wines found in sunken ships, and he and Shoji learned the craft from another winery in the prefecture that was already aging its wine underwater.
In collaboration with local oyster fishermen, the partners dipped wine bottles in an oyster farm. The first 90 bottles of white, rosé and red wine were put into the sea in February 2020 and pulled out in September. A second batch, placed underwater in October, was recovered in April.
“The taste of the wine has become softer and more aromatic in such a short time,” said Sasaki.
Some winemakers believe it takes around 10 years for the quality and yield of the grapes to stabilize and full marketing has yet to begin. But slowly they are realizing their dreams.
“After all, we want to make wine a Minami-Sanriku specialty that we can be proud of,” said Sasaki.