Shun Minowa is a 37-year-old Japanese winemaker, who, after graduating in Biodiversity Sciences in Tokyo, decided to travel to learn about the ancient method of production of natural wine. First in Spain and then in Chile, where he discovered the wines of Val Trebbia, the last destination of his itinerary. In 2017 he moved to Travo where initially he worked for the La Stoppa winery owned by Elena Pantaleoni and Giulio Armani and then, thanks to the help of Andrea Cervini of the Vino del Poggio winery and Alberto Anguissola of the Casé winery, he began the production of his own wine under an independent label, Gate, with the grapes he grows in his meagre hectare of land. In his work, the Western wine tradition and the Eastern philosophy are intertwined, restoring value to the contamination of different cultures.
Where did your interest in viticulture come from?
“Probably from the passion that my father has always had for Mediterranean cuisine. My journey as a, let’s say, taster, began with coffee of which I studied the tastes and odors. At a certain point I realized that there was something more interesting than coffee, namely wine. At university I studied biodiversity science because learning how to protect the ecosystem and protect the diversity of nature has always been very important to me. And the wine was more interesting because it represents very well the typicality of a land”.
Why did you choose the production of natural wine?
“Natural wine is simply wine made without human intervention. Making a natural wine was like a mission: I wanted to make a good one that respects the world and the earth. Because if you have a vineyard and you are thinking about which wine could come out of it, there are so many options to choose from. If you like an intense wine but you have a white, light grape in your hand, thanks to the oenological knowledge you would be able to obtain the wine you want. But if you have that grape and that land, why not use the beauty and potential of that grape and that place? All artificial additions are not an option for me, I do nothing but wait for the natural fermentation. This is how wine acquires a personality of its own, also expressing in flavour the land in which it was grown and it is precisely in this way that each wine makes itself different from the others”.
You have a really original label, what inspired you?
“This is a work by a Japanese artist, Ayumi Takahashi, called ‘Flowering’. It symbolizes a flower and is hand painted. I immediately thought it was perfect for my wine because it is an image that indirectly refers to handmade work. I’m working in an ancient vineyard that has belonged to the same family for seventy years. It takes great strength to take care of a vineyard and the family that owns mine could no longer do it. The owner also told me about his memories as a 10-year-old boy when his father taught him about cultivation. This land is linked to the memory of the family and I do everything to protect their inheritance. This is the meaning of the choice of this image on the label: wine is a flowering made possible thanks to the work of many hands”.
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And what is the meaning of the name of your wine, Gate?
“The wine of the 2019 vintage I called Gate, which is an important Sanskrit word in Buddhism. It is derived from the heart sutra, written more than 2000 years ago and is perhaps the most important sutra. Between 300 and 400 AD a Buddhist monk named Kumārajīva translated the sutras into Chinese, except for the last sentence. The last sentence begins with “Gate” and is still read in Sanskrit because it is believed to be too important and powerful to be recited translated”.
Gate literally means he is gone and the whole sentence refers to crossing the river and achieving Nirvana
Why did you choose it for your wine?
“Normally wine names follow a classification, but for me it doesn’t make much sense. It’s like when you go to the museum and see a painting or a work of art. We must confront this work without having any information about it and we must try to interpret it. Every now and then next to this work there is a small description that explains who made it but also the meaning that can be interesting but contaminates the work with other people’s experience”.
And what happens with wine?
“With wine it should be the same thing. For example, if a guy opens a bottle and turns to his girlfriend telling her that it is a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, explaining its properties and variety, here, the act of explaining for me is not cool at all. Instead of saying this nonsense to his girlfriend, he could tell her “this is good”, like the sutra, and he must have power because it is good. Wine must explain itself, not be classified”.
To get to produce Gate you traveled a lot.
“The trip was useful for me to exercise my humility. When you work on any subject the worst enemy is always arrogance, because arrogance comes from ignorance. I don’t think I’ve traveled a lot, but I managed to see quite different worlds and I adopted openness towards the other, trying to overcome any stereotypes. The wine must be like this, open. Because it is very difficult to say which is the right morality and which is the wrong one. If you live in a small community you may delude yourself into saying something morally universal, but in reality you should never generalize”.
What idea did you have of opening up to different things in Italy and elsewhere?
“In this area of Italy (Val Trebbia) I found a spirituality that is familiar to me, there is a special atmosphere and the people also made me fall in love. Everyone has always been welcoming to me. Before I lived in Spain and I perceived a strong intolerance that I did not find elsewhere. Then I took a short trip to Italy and I felt good because I didn’t find racism”.
What do wine and diversity have in common?
“Since I am working with wine, the theme of diversity is very important. I’m not going to say anything political with my wine, but I think that the same diversity I encountered can be found in wines. I try to create one that respects the diversity of the earth and if someone drinking it feels this effort of mine, I am happy. Because diversity is a value for me. Every now and then they ask me, in my opinion, what is the best wine, but this is a meaningless question. Because wine is precious and unique, like us”.
Translated by Adam Clark
Photo by Federica Calzi