The first winery visit of this year’s Nagano tour was at Gio Hills winery, which is owned by the Tomioka family: Masaki and his wife Yoko, and their winemaker son Hayato. They also own the fabulous riyokan Nakadana-Sou which I stayed at the previous night.
Gio Hills started to grow vines in 2000, and until then Masaki Tomioka had been growing potatoes on his land. At that time Manns winery were experimenting with Chardonnay at high altitude in Nagano (600 m), but Masaki decided to go 200 m higher. ‘I like a challenge,’ he says. Now they have 2 hectares planted, but so far just 0.5 hectares in production. They have just completed a new winery, which has beautiful 360 degree views of the surrounding area, fringed by mountains each side and behind, and looking down the valley to Komoro.
The vineyards are all in close proximity, and are carefully tended. No herbicides are used.
Previously, the wines had been custom crushed. Hayato began making the wines in 2017, and the 2018 is the first in the new winery.
Gio Hills Chardonnay 2016 Komoro, Nagano, Japan
1700 bottles. This was custom crushed at Manns winery, not made by Hayato. No oak. Slightly nutty nose with citrus and pineapple fruit. The palate is fresh and delicate with apple and citrus, and a stony, slightly mineral edge. This has good acidity and focus with a vivid personality. Attractive. 87/100
Gio Hills Chardonnay 2017 Komoro, Nagano, Japan
370 bottles made, now sold out. Fermentation stopped over winter and then restarted in spring, but in the end had to bottle with a bit of sugar. This was made by Hayato and was aged in oak. There’s a cedary, spicy, woody edge to the nose which shows fresh citrus and pineapple fruit. Has some richness on the palate with sweet apple, pear and citrus fruit, and some warm spiciness. Very attractive, showing some oak and a bit of sweetness, but in harmony. 88/100
Gio Hills Pinot Noir 2017 Komoro, Nagano, Japan
From the Mimakigahara lieu dit at 830 m. This Pinot Noir is from 9 year old vines and it is fermented with wild yeasts. It’s subtle and sappy with fine red cherry fruit and a bit of plum. There’s also just a hint of undergrowth. The palate shows soft tannins and good acidity with lovely fruit and great precision and finesse. A light style but with some substance, this is drinking very well now. 92/100
Gio Hills Merlot 2017 Komoro, Nagano, Japan
1500 bottles. 830 m altitude, 10 year old vines. Beautifully aromatic, leafy green nose is very Loire-like. Shows raspberries and redcurrants with nice harmony. The palate is pure, vivid and juicy with crunchy red fruits and nice structure. With good acidity, this is a lovely wine with deliciously focused fruit, and some prettiness, too. 91/100