You may have heard of “Conceptor” in other areas such as Richard Mille for luxury watches, where ‘Richard Mille’ is the name of the brand as well as the founder and conceptor of the watches. Richard Mille does not have its own factory but it does have an assembly line after all the parts and modules have been delivered to them. It designs and works closely with top-notch suppliers to make apparently impossible things happen for the watch to be invented and made.
The same process is happening in the wine world, which I never imagined possible. I wrote about a winery visit to Kenzo Estate on AlphaLuxe. The wine brand that I am introducing here has recently replaced Kenzo Estate to supply First Class Cabin wine list of Japan Air Lines. Intrigued by this “new” wine brand, I contacted the owner who has a Facebook page and the Ch. igai Takaha website, which is unfortunately only in Japanese……
I repeatedly asked the owners where the winery is as I wanted to visit. I was puzzled how they make such wonderful wines and work with winemakers in California as the owners seem to be in Japan most of the time. Our communication did not go well despite our common Japanese language and I became more puzzled by his answers. Then, he said something like “I tell my trusted winemakers what type of taste I want and they make it for us”. A sudden realization struck me and I asked, “So, you are the conceptor of the wine and the top-notch winemakers make your wines in their vineyard under your brand?”
That was a rather surprising concept (no pun intended) but it could make sense as long as you know the top-notch winemakers and they also know and respect you. That is how ‘Ch.igai Takaha’ (Chateau Igai Takaha) operates. It does not have its vineyard anywhere in the world. It tells the winemakers what type of wine is desired and the wine is delivered; the results are surprisingly good.
The owners are Takahide Sugimoto and his wife, Miyoko, who married in 1978. Takahide was a computer engineer and Miyoko was a pharmacist. In 2005, they decided to plan for their daughters’ wedding celebrations using their own wine and that resulted in the formation of the “Ch.igai Takaha” winery. The wine is considered good accompaniment with Japanese cuisine and of high quality. Thus, it is widely praised as reflecting the “Wabi Sabi” aesthetic in Japanese culture and is often on the wine list of high class hotels, ryokans, and Michelin Star restaurants.
Mr Sugimoto wants to be clearly understood that “Ch.igai Takaha” is a “virtual winery without vine yard or in-house winemakers or winemaking machines; this is a new type of winery.” It is noteworthy that this “new type winery” is built solely on the “trust” that Mr. and Mrs. Sugimoto have built so far – this brand may be the only one that has both Greg Brewer and Paul Lato as its winemakers. They are both on the current Best Winemakers list and it is wonderful that you can taste both their wines under one brand.
Mr. Sugimoto spoke about his collaborator winemakers:
Mr. Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton
We met Greg in May 2005. We first drank his wine in 2000, when Greg was not well known at all, and were very impressed. We even visited his winery two years later. Greg got more popular and in 2014, his wine was ranked 8th in the ‘Wine Spectator’ Top 100 and he became one of the top winemakers.
His style is “wine of deduction” – harvest the grapes a bit early to leave a bit more acidity but never add anything. For example, he uses new barrels for different flavour. His wine shows himself: very honest and sincerely facing winemaking. He calls Ch.igai Takaha his “sister winery” and introduces the brand on this VIDEO:
Mr. Paul Lato of Paul Lato Wines
Paul Lato was born in Poland and moved to Toronto, Canada to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. He started as a “rat”, whose job is to find a wine the customer ordered from the cellar. He never made it to become a chef, but was attracted by wines and became the top sommelier of the restaurant. As his desire to make his own wine grew, he moved to California in 2002 and became an apprentice of Jim Clendenen of ‘Au Bon Climat’. His “prototype” wine, without even a label, was tried and highly rated by Mr. Robert Parker and in just two years he joined the top winemakers list.
His style is “wine of addition” – how to ferment, which barrel to use, how the temperature affects the wines, etc. He takes very detailed care of his wines. We met him in March 2008 at the ‘World of Pinot Noir’ party and we became friends quickly by sharing wines. We asked him to make wines for us, which would match Japanese foods by blending the best-of-the-best. Those wines just debuted in July 2016.
Some of the Wines:
By Greg Brewer (Brewer-Clifton):
Samurai – White wine
Sono (Mrs Sugimoto’s maiden name) – Red wine (Pinot Noir)
By Paul Lato
Kokoro series – Rose from Pinot Noir
Kokoro series – White Sauvignon Blanc
Other collaborators include:
Steve Clifton of Palmina Wines
Kenneth (Joey) Gummere of Transcendence Wines
Roger A. Harrison of R.A.Harrison Family Cellars
There are a few places where you can enjoy Ch.igai Takaha wines in the USA:
MIFUNE in New York (opening in November 2016)
TEMPURA ENDO in Beverly Hills, CA.
ARIGATO SUSHI in Santa Barbara, CA.
About the Author
Ken Hokugo is a contributor to AlphaLuxe based in Japan but a citizen of the world. During his travels, he brings us tales of wine, food and other epicurean delights. He is also a Moderator-at-Large for the respected horology website PuristSPro.com and writes extensively about wristwatches in English and Japanese publications.