Tour de Natural Wine
#02 Dard et Ribo “Crozes Hermitage Blanc 2019”
-Exploring vineyards by mountain bike.-

Natural wine has a connection with bicycles. In the second installment of the series, we’ll hear from Takuya Itagaki, a cellar worker and owner of ‘LoveSong by BATONS’ in Sendai City, Tohoku, who has been pursuing natural wine for about 20 years.

After lunch at the René Jean’s house…

Twenty years since encountering natural wine. I’ve visited many producers mainly in France. For my first column, I’d like to introduce a wine along with a memorable cycling episode from one of the visits.

In 2011, at the peak of the harvest season, I was barely given permission to visit “Dard et Ribo” in the Rhône region of France. It’s a winery run by François Ribo and René-Jean Dard. Being able to speak only Japanese, I visited alone. Although I had some concerns, it was my third visit here, and René-Jean had reassured me by saying, “There’s also a Japanese stagiaire(*1) here,” so I visited without hesitation.

Upon arrival, I helped with the “pigeage(*2)” process, where people enter large barrels and crush grapes with their feet. After the work, since there was time until lunch, François took me to his house and handed me a mountain bike, saying, “Here you go.”


“Come back by lunchtime.”

Since you’re here, explore Tain-l’Hermitage where the winery is located. Despite feeling tired from the “pigeage” process, I went on a two-hour tour with another stagiaire who was there.

Dard et Ribo Winery

Of course, instead of heading to the town, we went up to the hill of Hermitage where we could see the vineyards. Up until now (and even now), I have mostly visited wineries by car, typically visiting two or three wineries in a day, so it was a rare and valuable opportunity for me to leisurely explore the vineyards. We rode our bikes parallel to the Rhône River, and although it was a bit challenging, we made it to the hill of Hermitage. It’s a breathtaking spot overlooking the steep vineyards unique to Hermitage and the Rhône River. On the way back, we got a bit adventurous and ended up on an unfamiliar path… We had to carry our bikes down the hill, but it was quite an adventure!

The hill of Hermitage

Since then, I haven’t had the chance to leisurely tour the vineyards on a bike. But if I ever have the time and can stay near the winery for a couple of nights, touring on a bike like we did back then would definitely be amazing. I find myself often fantasizing about impulsively leaving the shop to someone else and going on a trip.

I’m still on good terms with René-Jean from “Dard et Ribo,” who gave me such a valuable experience. When I go to France, I stay at his place, and when he visited Japan recently, we went on a trip to Kyoto together.

René-Jean and his partner

The first time I drank his wine was in 2004. Honestly, it was so unique… I remember being continuously surprised, like, “What’s with this wine? This flavor? This smell?” At that time, the mainstream winemaking technique was to “reduce” the wine to minimize the addition of antioxidants for oxidation prevention. Reduced wines had a strong scent like hot spring eggs or sulfur (sometimes referred to as “bio scent”), making it challenging to get customers to accept them (of course, our lack of knowledge and skills in serving wine also played a role). Well, those wines transformed into super delicious wines after aging for 20 years (at that time, I never imagined they would change like that).

The two have become legendary producers in the world of natural wine. In recent years, their winemaking environment and methods have also changed, and they have been providing delicious wines right from the release (though of course they are amazing when aged).

*1 Stagiaire: Trainee or intern in French.

*2 Pigeage: The process of pushing down the solid components such as grape skins floating on the surface of the liquid, known as the “cap”.

Today’s Natural Wine

Dard et Ribo Crozes Hermitage  Blanc 2019
The aroma is incredibly vibrant, with rich notes of pear, apricot, and ripe yellow peach, accompanied by a refreshing hint of citrus and grapefruit. Gradually, hints of chamomile and acacia honey-like subtle spices, along with a velvety scent, unfold, and the delicate nuances of the barrel add complexity. It has a sparkling taste like a gemstone, with a strong yet soft tropical fruitiness and a gentle acidity that wraps the entire palate. With aging, it gains alluring nuances, offering a softness different from its initially simple and powerful flavor profile.

【vineyard】France>Rhone>Crozes Hermitage

Dard et Ribo Crozes Hermitage Rouge 2019
Dard et Ribo’s standard wine. It bursts with lively flavors of black and purple fruits, while a floral scent reminiscent of violets fills the glass. The superb balance between rich, concentrated fruitiness and smooth drinkability embodies the maker’s description of Syrah as a feminine grape variety.

*In French, the grape variety Syrah is a masculine noun. However, René-Jean of Dard et Ribo describes it as a feminine grape. He says that while it starts off supple in its youth, with time (as it ages), it gains strength and becomes more powerful.

【vineyard】France>Rhone>Crozes Hermitage
【 type】Rouge


Takuya Itagaki
Owner of the wine shop “LoveSong by BATONS” located in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Introduced to natural wine 20 years ago, fascinated by it, and transitioned from being a chef to a cellar worker. Opened several bistros in Sendai since 2002, pioneering the handling of natural wine in the Tohoku region. In 2015, opened the specialized natural wine shop “BATONS.” In 2023, shifted focus to a wholesale specialty store and opened the retail wine shop “LoveSong by BATONS,” combined with an apparel store. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, collaborated with Takeda Winery in Yamagata to produce the original wine “Vin de MICHINOKU” by blending grapes from six prefectures in the Tohoku region, as part of a project he initiated. Representative of MaCuisine Co., Ltd. / Owner of the wholesale wine shop “BATONS” / Owner of “Mangetsu Wine Bar Sendai.”