135 years of Japanese wine-making

I writing this from frigid December Bath in the UK. Brrrr. I think these photos are actually making me feel colder.

At the end of summer I travelled up to Katsunuma in Yamanashi prefecture. The area is home to Japan’s largest winemaker, Mercian, and 80 odd little wineries open for visiting and tasting. Katsunuma’s wine-making traditions go right back to the Meiji period.

koshu grapes

Somewhat improbably, Japan actually has a native wine-grape, the Koshu variety. The story is that seeds came along the silk road from Europe centuries ago and were grown in the Katsunuma area to produce eating grapes. It was only after Japan opened to the West that the grapes were used to make wine.

picking koshu grapes

This is the Mercian winery: Chateau Mercian. I had a pretty poor image of Mercian wine, being familar with the sweet purple gloop that you see in Japanese convenience stores.

But it was Mercian that devised a way to make “Koshu white” using the Katsunuma grapes. It’s a good wine, and not as expensive as you might think.

This is Shigekazu Misawa who runs Grace Wine. He’s part of a group of 14 Katsunuma winemakers who are trying to export the local wine. When we met Misawa said he’ll be in London 2010 for a special Japanese wine-tasting event at the Japanese Embassy.

Yamanashi wine, Oct 2009 – Images by Tony McNicol

3 Responses to “135 years of Japanese wine-making”

  1. the first photo reminds me of the wine country near San Francisco – here in eastern California we have 2 or 3 small vineyards – have produced a limited amount of wine in the past 3 years – don’t know the names, however. I never thought of Japan as a wine producing area, been focused on the sake !!

  2. tony says:

    Hi Stewart. No, there’s not much wine here. But the Koshu white is fairly palatable.I think the Yamanashi tourist people and trying to set up some kind of wine tour of the vineyards.

    As it happens, about a year ago I visited a sake brewery in Portland called SakeOne. http://www.sakeone.com/sakeone/index.jsp

    Rather nice it was too!

  3. Mike Ignatov says:

    Add one more thing to the New Year to-do list.

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