Interview with Kei Shiogai, winemaker

In just 5 years, this former Tokyo sommelier has made a name for himself in Burgundy. He’s sure to be one of tomorrow’s greats. On his return from the capital, where he presented his wines to the sommelier of the Plénitude – Cheval Blanc Paris*** restaurant, the young Japanese sommelier talks frankly about his vision and his practices. A delight.

How far have you got with the current vintages?

All the 2022s have been racked and bottled. The 2023s are being matured for around 18 months, both the whites and the reds. Throughout this time, I’ll be tasting them regularly, appellation by appellation, to avoid any risk of oxidation or deviation. Depending on how I feel about them, I may also give them a stir. I only did this once with the previous vintage. Otherwise, in 2023, there’ll be something new: an Échézeaux Grand Cru!

But how do you get the grapes for such appellations?

The relationships I’ve built up over more than 10 years with a large number of renowned winemakers have been decisive. They introduced me to the right people and, when necessary, co-opted me in a way. That’s how, in my first year of business, for example, I was able to acquire grapes from Gevrey-Chambertin1er Cru Les Cherbaudes. A real stroke of luck. I’m well aware of that. After that, my first wines and their reception did the rest…

To the point of being able to intervene in the management of the vines concerned and their harvest?

Yes and no. It would be very unwise to impose my views from the outset. It just doesn’t happen. Instead, as time goes by and trust develops, I try to talk to the winegrowers in question and, as far as possible, agree on a way of pruning, staggering, lifting, trimming, etc., or even on a harvest date. It’s ideal. For me, more than the quality of the grapes we buy or the practices in the rows, it’s the harvest – the whole harvest for me – that really matters. For cuvées like Meursault Les Tessons, I managed to agree on a harvest date. My teams were even able to pick the grapes!

What criteria did you use?

Every morning, I briefed them myself, thanks to photos I took. What not to pick – immature berries, grey rot, bitter stems, etc. – and what to pick. Even though most of my pickers are great wine enthusiasts, I think they appreciate this involvement. It shows them how important I think their work is. The berries have to be intact so that the intracellular maceration, so dear to Jules Chauvet, can take place in the best possible conditions. It’s also for this reason that I prefer to harvest until midday at the latest, sorting the grapes in the vineyard rather than in the cellar, then storing them here in the cellar at 10°C, before putting them into vats, not with the help of a giraffe that might crush them, but by hand, in small batches, delicately.

Where do these choices come from? How do you decide which practices to follow?

Here again, I’ve learned a lot from my peers. From my past experiences, I’ve learned my own lessons, taking on board or discarding the practices of others. I have composed myself. I have also acquired convictions through my own experiments. I’m thinking of punching down the cap, for example: on certain cuvées, I found myself punching down the cap myself, with my feet in the vat, to get a better feel for the temperature and structure of the grapes. In the same way, instead of pumping over, which I find a little aggressive, I prefer to use a bucket to get a better feel for the aromas as they develop. These methods allow me to stay in touch with the product and, I hope, to understand it better. Basically, I feel like a craftsman.

Not forgetting the analysis…

All year round, it confirms or refutes my feelings. And because I lack patience, as well as using laboratories, I’ve acquired a measuring instrument: the Œnofoss. When I take a sample, it instantly gives me a few key figures: sugar, ph, total acidity, glucose/fructose ratio, malic acid, volatile acidity, clarity, etc. I use it to analyse my own juices, of course, but also the wines I taste. So I have a sort of comparative database that I can refer to constantly.

What about sulphur?

I’m asking myself quite a few questions about it. Up until now, I’ve made very limited use of it. Personally, I’m more inclined towards wines with sulphur. It’s my old-fashioned, very traditional side… But I had chosen not to use it, or to use it very little. It meant I had to be twice as careful. Nevertheless, some customers are sensitive to the possibilities that sulphur offers to secure the wines and also to ensure that they last over time. So I introduced sulphur here and there during the ageing process, in varying doses, just to see…

Are you a traditionalist?

In a way, yes! Look at the labels on my wines: each one bears the historic coat of arms of its appellation. And then, being part of a long Burgundy tradition, respecting it, is a must. I’m convinced of that. Just look at my role models: Domaine Leroy and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, to name but a few!

Kei Shiogai wines are very rare and the subject of speculation… We therefore limit purchases to one bottle per customer, within the limits of our allocation. For more information, please contact our wine merchants by e-mail: