Wine from Japan, the land of the rising sun
Burgundy, Tuscany, the Palatinate, and even California are famous wine-growing regions. On the other hand, Japan probably only has a few on the map in this respect. Wine has been produced in Yamanashi Prefecture for more than 140 years. And a trip to the slopes of the country’s most famous mountain, Mount Fuji, is not only worthwhile for the fine wines.
Unesco World Heritage Site, volcano, Shinto sanctuary – without question, it belongs to Fuji (which in Japanese is given the polite form “Fuji-san”) among the most amazing places and most visited sights in Japan. Not surprising, since the region around the volcano with its forests and hot springs seems made for nature lovers. And indeed, the area on the border of the prefectures (similar to our counties) counts Shizuoka and Yamanashi as the Japanese’s most popular excursion and holiday destinations.
The wine of Japan can be a big question mark; in fact, there are sure to be those who did not know that wines were produced in that country. In this post, I will tell you a little about it.
Japan’s most important wine region
Japan’s most important wine region is located in the Yamanashi Prefecture‚ there, you can see a vast climatic difference between day and night. Good sunshine during the summer and well-drained volcanic soils‚ however, ‚ the area also suffers in winter cold Siberian winds and summer heavy monsoon rainfall coming from the Sea of Japan and the Pacific.
It is for this reason that the Japanese vineyards‚ seeking the best health‚ are conducted mainly in a vine system known as Tanazukuri and‚ the European trellis‚ Lyra.
French know-how on Japanese slopes
The region around the highest mountain in the country at 3,776 meters is probably only known for its wine among die-hard wine fans. And we’re not talking about Japanese rice wine sake here. The traditional wines of the region include the white koshu wine, which is named after the city of the same name in Yamanashi. Likewise, the red wine made from the grape variety Muscat Bailey A a long tradition here. Both are among the oldest types bred in Japan.
The literal basis for this tradition was laid in 1877 with the founding of the first private winery. The technical know-how was brought to the land of the rising sun by two winegrowers trained in France. Sun is the keyword anyway because it shines entirely around Mount Fuji. Coupled with the hillside location – the wine naturally likes this very much. So it’s no wonder that wine-growing began here. The Chateau Mercian Katsunuma Winery hoovers came from this first European-style winery, today the largest wine producer in Japan.
Cultural enjoyment for body and soul
But enough of the (semi-)dry story: What can you experience on-site?
A visit to the winery is worth a trip. In addition to the picturesque landscape that one would expect from a winery, the historic winery has a café to relax in, a tasting room, and a wine museum. Here the pleasant is combined with the pedagogical.
The museum is embedded in a more than 100-year-old building, which one or the other cultural treat can admire. So stand in the oldest wooden wine cellar in Japan still today some wine barrels that found their way from France to Japan long ago. Today’s production can also visit, but you should register in advance.
Speaking of registering: This is recommended if you plan to visit one of the Wineries in Yamanashi anyway – at least if you don’t speak the local language. However, with the required advance notice, some estates ensure that English-speaking staff is present for a visit—like Marufuji Winery, which produces and sells white Rubaiyat white wine. Also, in the winery grace wine – founded initially as Chup Budoshu – there is an offer of English-speaking advice with advance notice.
Around Mount Fuji, however, you can not only indulge in drinking pleasure: Exquisite dishes also want to be discovered and feasted on. Das serves local cuisine, emphasizing regional and seasonal ingredients Restaurant Zelkova. It is attached to the winery Chateau Lumiere and – not surprisingly – the menu is tailored to the wines produced there.
With Canadian expertise through the region
Those who prefer to experience the region under a knowledgeable guide should get help from David Ellis. Canadian choice Japanese bids private tours through the wine region and takes its guests along the various wineries and other sights in the area. But don’t worry, the two all-day times don’t neglect to enjoy wine: you visit three to four wineries per tour, and there is also a detour in the Shakado Museum of Jomon Culture on the program. Here are archaeological finds of the prehistoric Jōmon culture displayed.
In short: A trip to Mount Fuji is worthwhile for several reasons. Not only wine connoisseurs should be delighted with the traditional region. A trip to Japan also holds for multiple vacationers in Japan Koshu Valley some new experiences. And if you are traveling to Japan for the first time, a journey to Fuji-san is almost a must anyway. And while you’re there, you can also get to know the local wine culture.
During her dream trip to Japan, editor Marie got to know the land of the rising sun up close. For those planning a trip to Japan themselves, we have many helpful tips in store.
Some interesting dates
History tells us that winemaking in Japan began in 1874 in Yamanashi Prefecture. Located in the vicinity of Mount Fuji‚ it has 480 hectares. The vineyard produces approximately 95% of Japanese wine.
The first winery with large-scale production was established in 1879. However, the cultivation of vines‚ on a small scale‚ has been present in the country since 718 when Buddhist monks introduced it in Katsunuma.
In the 16th century, there was the first mention of wine production with Portuguese influences‚ but a change in power in the 17th century brought the prohibition of drinking wine and the expulsion of the missionaries. So the consolidation of its production had to wait.
In the year 1990, the growth in the consumption of wine in the country begins, mainly driven by the dissemination of the benefits that it brings to health.
Koshu‚ the Japanese strain.
The Koshu wine variety is grown at the foot of Mount Fuji. It is a native strain of Japan and was developed from grapes that traveled along the Silk Road in Central Asia. From the Caucasus to China and then to Japan about a thousand years ago; It has a thick skin‚ pinkish-gray color‚ with long clusters and medium grains.
It gives a pale straw-colored wine‚ with soft fruity aromas where‚ according to the Koshu of Japan website‚ notes of citrus and peach predominate‚ it has a low alcohol content‚ light‚ pleasant and balanced acidity.
The rest of the Japanese vineyard comprises hybrid varieties such as Campbell’s Early‚ Delaware and Moscatel Bailey A; these, together with the Koshu variety, account for approximately 85% of the vineyard. The rest is represented by traditional types such as Semillon‚ Riesling‚ Chardonnay‚ Cabernet, Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan’s largest wine region, leads the country’s wine boom.
Although Japan’s wine is perhaps less well known than its avant-garde beers, sake, and cocktails, it has been producing grape wine for more than a century. It is a lesser-known but ancient tradition among the small population that consumes wine.
However, with affordable French, Italian, and Chilean wines available throughout Japan, why would locals grab a glass of unknown koshu (a native grape) when they could buy a well-known chardonnay from France?
With limited marketing and competition from the world’s mega wine regions, Japanese wines have struggled to reach a global market. However, a group of winemakers in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan’s largest wine-producing region, notice that tastes are beginning to change.
“The consumption of sake and beer is declining,” says Haruo Omura, owner of the Marufuji winery. Beer and sake consumption in Japan has been declining since the 1970s.
“Palates are changing, and people are starting to alter their alcohol choices.”
He adds, noting that his wine sales have gradually increased over the past 20 years. According to the Global Agricultural Information Network, wine consumption in Japan has risen steadily over the past decade as Japanese wines become more visible in retail stores and restaurants.
“Food and wine pairings have become more popular,” says Omura. “Restaurants used only to serve bottles, but now they serve by the glass, which means you can try more than one wine.”
Marufuji, established by the Omura family in 1890, currently produces 170,000 bottles a year, most of which are consumed within the borders of Japan. Housed in a traditional Japanese building with dark wood beams and sliding shoji screens, Marufuji Tasting Room & Shop is like a slice of old Japan. Outside, there is an old manicured garden with bonsai and black pines; Beyond the park, the terraced vineyards stretch for some 2.5 hectares.
Wine from Japan, the land of the rising sun
The cellar is nothing like the sprawling cellars of France or Italy, but it has an unmistakable sense of place. Here, wine drinkers can try some reds and whites: Chardonnay, Muscat Bailey A, Petit Verdot, and the winery’s flagship white wine, which is made from koshu, a traditional Japanese grape variety that thrives in the humid climate of Japan.
The brand’s Rubaiyat Koshu Sur Lie, made from 100% koshu, has a soft, herbaceous yellow color and a light flavor with a slight subtle flavor. It is incredibly delicate, a characteristic that is both the most excellent quality and the most significant deficiency of the wine.
“Our wines can’t be too strong. Otherwise, they will overpower the [sensitive flavors of] Japanese food,” says Omura, who often sees people pair wine incorrectly. A koshu wine would not hold its own if paired with bold French seafood dishes like Moules marinière or sole sautéed in butter. But then again, should it be like this?
“If you’re eating Japanese food, then you should be drinking Japanese wine,”
Yuji Aruga, president of Katsunuma Jyozo Winery, a family-owned winery based in Yamanashi. Located in a 140-year-old merchant’s home, the winery dates back to 1937 and aims to showcase the best of koshu wine. Aruga believes that the biggest downfall of Japanese wine is the lack of marketing.
“People’s understanding of Japanese drinks is sake,” he says. “Even in Japan, people drink foreign wine. There is a wine market, but there is no culture around it.” According to Aruga, part of the problem is that people only drink wine on special occasions, and not many foreigners are educated on Japanese wines.” I hope that people outside of Japan will begin to recognize Japanese wine and drink it more.”
Aruga believes that the only way to spread the gospel of the grape is to attract international attention, which is difficult when you are competing against countries like France and Spain. Of the 450,000 bottles, Katsunuma produces, only one percent is exported. “We would like to get up to 10%,” he says. In 2007, they began exporting their excellent Koshu Branca Issehara (made from 100% koshu grapes) to the EU through a partnership with Chateau Pape-Clement in Bordeaux.
At the winery’s Kaze restaurant, a five-minute walk from the vineyard, Katsunuma Jyozo wines are served alongside dishes like roast beef with Japanese horseradish sauce to show how wines can complement local cuisine. “People don’t understand that these wines bring out the local food,” says Aruga.
Increasingly, restaurants are serving local cuisine along with Japanese wines.
The Risonare Hotel in Yamanashi, a self-proclaimed “wine resort,” encourages guests to sample local bottles at the YY Grill and the Winehouse, an on-property tasting room, more than 24 signature wines (some from the winery Katsunuma Jyozo) are available on tap. There’s even a “wine suite” dotted with merlot-colored cushions and walls and a Vino Spa that offers treatments using products made from grapes.
At nearby Hoshino Fuji, a splendid glamping hotel facing Mount Fuji, guests can enjoy dinner in the woods, where seasonal dishes like wasabi and strawberry cream tartare are served alongside glasses of muscatel bailey A and koshu. Lumiere,
Yamanashi’s oldest family-owned winery, founded in 1885, producing wines including a koshu and bailey A muscat, has a restaurant that serves Japanese and French fusion dishes paired with its wines. In the elegant tasting room, visitors are encouraged to sample their range of wines from the gleaming stainless steel and glass automatic wine dispenser.
Wine from Japan, the land of the rising sun
A different approach.
While some wineries in the Yamanashi are spreading wine culture, Hiroshi Matsuzaka, CEO of MGV, has taken a different approach.
The former semiconductor maker, which started producing wine in 2017, is making wine with the precision of a scientist. If Yamanashi’s other wineries transport you to 1800s Japan, MGVs will catapult you into the future.
The tasting room is as elegant as contemporary, with polished hardwood floors and large glass windows that look out onto the lab winemaking areas. Here, they use a nitrogen system to prevent oxidation in wine production, a system that has been repurposed from semiconductors.
The cleanroom, where the wine is fermented, bottled, and stored, has a powerful circulation system that removes anything that could affect quality. Matsuzaka is also toying with the growth of the actual koshu grape. By applying stress and science to grapes, he hopes to grow a smaller variety of koshu grape, leading to more character wines.
“I have tried many Japanese wines, and I think it is a good solution. I want to get more characteristics out of the wine,” says Matsuzaka. His methods are unconventional and could play an essential role in increasing the visibility of Japanese wines.
Because that’s what Japanese wine needs: attention, it’s got barrels of history, craftsmanship, and complexity, and now all it needs is for people to take notice.
Wine from Japan, the land of the rising sun