One is a tiny country with an age-old winemaking tradition – the other a global heavyweight which only started to discover its passion for wine a few decades ago. A priori, it seemed highly unlikely that a corkscrew would help Luxembourg and Japan find common ground and yet, it is precisely these differen
ces which have brought them together.
There is a long history of economic and trading relations between the two nations. Just to take wine as an example, three estates are already exporting to the Land of the Rising Sun: Cep d’or, Berna and Ruppert. In Tokyo, the Luxembourg embassy has put gastronomic diplomacy to good use to pique Japanese curiosity for the Grand Duchy. And to get to know one another what better calling card could there be than wine – synonymous with know-how, sharing and conviviality? So Yuriko Matsano, Executive Director of the Luxembourg Trade and Investment Office (LTIO) in Tokyo, has been busy developing contacts to promote Moselle wines.
Her hard work has sparked interest from the Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) and winemakers from the Tohoku region, in the northern part of Honshu, the archipelago’s largest island. Considered as Japan’s granary, everything here revolves around agriculture but the tradition of making wine is still in its infancy. Although vines have been planted, they are grown primarily for table grapes. However, a few estates, often established only very recently, have started producing their own wines. And it is these estates which have shown great interest in Luxembourg’s expertise.
The first exchange took place in July in the Moselle. A Japanese delegation came to study how wine is made in Luxembourg and visited several estates, as well as the Institut Viti-Vinicole in Remich (IVV – the Ministry of Agriculture’s local office in the Moselle). They saw how fermentations are carried out, the method used for making crémant (which they don’t yet produce) and the services provided by the IVV and so on. There was a huge range of questions! The delegation even met Fernand Etgen, the then Minister of Agriculture.
André Mehlen, Josy Gloden and Arno Bauer as envoys
If coming to the Grand Duchy had given the Japanese winemakers an opportunity to observe how Luxembourg winemakers work and the equipment they use, the Japanese also wanted to invite their Luxembourg counterparts to their own estates to offer them advice on their home ground. From 10 to 17 November, three representatives for the Grand Duchy’s wine industry boarded the plane for Tokyo: André Mehlen (IVV Wine Inspector), Josy Gloden (winemaker and chairman of Domaines Vinsmoselle) and Arno Bauer (cellar master for the Krier Frères, Gales and Saint-Martin estates).
For all three, this was the first time they had travelled to the Land of the Rising Sun. After Tokyo, they were back in the air to fly 1,000 km to Hokkaido in the north of Japan. From there, they worked their way back down to the capital, stopping off several times in Tohoku as they took the famous bullet train (Shinkansen). Every time the train stopped, a tight schedule was organised to allow the Japanese winemakers who wanted to meet the experts from Luxembourg to do so in the time available. Although they all agreed on what advice to give, the trio from the Moselle divided the work among themselves. André Mehlen answered questions about general organisation for the sector, Josy Gloden spoke about work in the vineyard and Arno Bauer shed light on work in the cellar.
Giving the sector a structure
For the men from Luxembourg, this journey into unknown territory was full of surprises. First and foremost, Tohoku does not look like any winegrowing area in Europe. With its slightly undulating hillsides and rich, heavy soil, it’s quite the opposite of what is found over here. There the winters are harsh as temperatures may settle at around -20°, which can be borderline for vines.
And then, this is not an area that can boast a great winemaking culture. “Some estates, such as Edelwein, are very well equipped, already have substantial experience and produce really good wines; however, there are others which only have a few vats in a garage and were producing wines … that were strange!” Josy Gloden says with a smile.
André Mehlen was surprised to find that there is no structure to oversee and provide leadership for the region’s wine-making industry, as the IVV does in Luxembourg: “They don’t talk to one another,” he explains. “Yet, if there was more communication, they would all benefit by avoiding making the mistakes that others have made.” The men from Luxembourg were also astonished not to find any overall strategy for the sector. “For example, they are unable to provide yields because they make wine from those grapes that are not presentable enough to be sold as table grapes,” André Mehlen points out.
In spite of all this, the trio were impressed by the Japanese winemakers’ rigour (in particular with regard to hygiene) and their determination to improve. If it might prove easier for them to ask for help from Luxembourg than from their neighbours, then our men from the Moselle are more than willing to lend a helping hand!