Wine & De­sign

A new win­ery by Masamichi Katayama helps ru­ral Okayama savour the flavour of Ja­panese wine

Wallpaper - - October -

From a pi­o­neer­ing Ja­panese win­ery to a treat of a tast­ing room in South Africa

The 90-minute drive from Okayama air­port to the small town of Tetta in south­ern Ja­pan takes in beau­ti­ful moun­tain scenery and old vil­lages set on the wide Taka­hashi River. The last ten min­utes are on a nar­row road that winds up­hill through dense for­est and fi­nally vine­yards, which are shel­tered from the area’s gen­er­ous rain­fall by heavy-duty plas­tic domes stretched over rounded metal frames. A dis­tinctly mod­ern con­crete struc­ture grow­ing out of a small hill dis­turbs the agrar­ian land­scape and marks the end of the jour­ney.

Com­ing from a con­struc­tion back­ground, Ryuta Taka­hashi had a knowl­edge of the lime-heavy soil in the re­gion. This was what prompted him to make wine. ‘I used to play with lime as a child and never re­alised it was some­thing of any value,’ he says as he shows me around Domaine Tetta. Taka­hashi started the win­ery in 2009, when he bought a num­ber of lo­cal vine­yards. Most of the grapes were of a va­ri­ety best suited for eat­ing fresh, but there were a few rows of wine grapes and Taka­hashi quickly planted many more. He is now grow­ing six va­ri­eties on a mod­est six hectares sur­round­ing the win­ery build­ing, which was com­pleted in Septem­ber 2016. In the in­ter­val, he col­lab­o­rated with nearby winer­ies to process his fruit, but he is now fill­ing all Domaine Tetta’s bot­tles at his own fa­cil­i­ties.

Through­out Ja­pan, more and in­creas­ingly high qual­ity wine is be­ing made, though mostly in the Hokkaido, Ya­manashi and Nagano re­gions. So when Taka­hashi de­cided to help re­vi­talise his lo­cal com­mu­nity, he thought wine would be a good place to start. He turned to star designer Masamichi Katayama, prin­ci­pal of de­sign firm Won­der­wall, to help him cre­ate a win­ery that would also func­tion as a place to en­joy and talk about wine. Katayama’s prime con­cern was to make the space func­tional. ‘There are no con­spic­u­ous or un­nec­es­sary de­sign el­e­ments in the build­ing,’ says the designer, also orig­i­nally from Okayama. ‘I put the nec­es­sary func­tions at the nec­es­sary lo­ca­tions, and made use of the slop­ing site by putting the main en­trance at the top layer of the build­ing and the en­trance to the fields at the bot­tom.’ The main en­trance opens up to a spa­cious café area, where wine can be sam­pled and bought. This floor also of­fers un­re­stricted views of the pro­duc­tion space on the lower lev­els via a floor-to-ceil­ing, wall-to-wall win­dow, while a small ter­race over­looks the ad­ja­cent vine­yards. A large door on a small, mid-level plat­form al­lows for the grapes to be brought di­rectly to the press, where they are crushed. In a process known as grav­ity flow, the juice runs down through pipes into fer­men­ta­tion tanks on the lower level, half of which is oc­cu­pied by a large cli­mate-con­trolled wine cel­lar. This is where the filled bot­tles are stored in readi­ness for ship­ment. The whole set-up is re­mark­ably sim­ple and the ar­chi­tec­ture only helps to am­plify this.

To avoid the space be­ing too mun­dane, Katayama in­tro­duced Taka­hashi to busi­ness­man Ya­suharu Ishikawa, an­other Okayama lo­cal and a prom­i­nent art col­lec­tor. Ishikawa ar­ranged for the do­na­tion of a bright yel­low and green door, The No, by Swiss artist Ugo Rondi­none and a se­ries of neon signs, Paris Bar, by Dou­glas Gor­don and Jonathan Monk. The signs light up the pro­duc­tion hall, while Rondi­none’s door is on dis­play at one end of the wine cel­lar.

Domaine Tetta’s ca­pac­ity is around 50,000 bot­tles a year, but pro­duc­tion is cur­rently run­ning at about a third of that. The bot­tles are branded with witty la­bels de­signed by Tokyo’s Naomi Hirabayashi, known for her sim­ple graphic style. The la­bels fea­ture il­lus­tra­tions of some of the win­ery’s key staff mem­bers, as well as a small panda statue that was found when con­struc­tion started. The panda now greets vis­i­tors as they ap­proach the win­ery.

Tetta’s first vin­tage, re­leased last year, fea­tures as many as 16 va­ri­eties. It’s a large num­ber for such a small op­er­a­tion, but, as Taka­hashi points out, the win­ery is so new that he is still ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent grapes, pro­duc­tion and age­ing meth­ods to es­tab­lish what works best. He is get­ting closer to his dream of cre­at­ing a cul­ture of high-qual­ity, lo­cally pro­duced wine in this cor­ner of Ja­pan.∂


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