Katsunuma: Japan’s Wine Country

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Photo by Papasolotte

I was surprised to learn that quite a few areas in Japan made wine (ie. Nagano, Hokkaido, Niigata, and Katsunuma) and became curious to find out about Japan produced wines. Was it good? Was it popular? How was it compared to European wines?

I have previously written about the care put into Japanese sake and craft beer, but wine is much more high-maintenance, which is why I was intrigued that a country so humid would attempt such a task.

Vines need extreme cold, hot, and dryness to produce grapes suitable for wine production. But apparently, wine-making in Japan has been occurring since the Meiji Period, when Japan opened its doors to the Western world.

A wine unique to Japan is made from the Koshu grape. Now, here’s where the high-maintenance comes into play. One can’t just crush and ferment this grape. Because Japan is so humid, wine-makers have to extract the sugar from the Koshu, make sure all of the percentages are just right, and then go through the fermenting process. What is produced from this arduous procedure? A white wine that perfectly compliments Japanese food!

Japanese producers also make red wines and other whites. To compete in the industry, though, the wines need to have some familiar Western qualities, but its differences should be appreciated. To try it for yourself, I don’t suggest that you purchase a bottle blindly. I am a firm believer in tasting before you buy.

Katsunuma, wine country in Yamanashi, is only an hour and a half from Tokyo, but it feels like a world away, with its slow-paced vibe and the fact that English is not readily spoken, Japanese will be needed for the best experience. When you arrive at the Katsunuma-budokyo station, the main way to get around is by taxi (another option is to rent a car from Tokyo and drive to this area yourself).

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Katsunuma offers a range of wines that would fit any of your favorite foods. Most tastings are complimentary, but bottle purchases are recommended. The best way to try and purchase wine is by imagining what food you would want to pair with it.

Wineries are sprinkled across this region, but I will highlight my favorites below.

I adore small-production, family-owned wineries, and I highly recommend a visit to Haramo Winery. Their wines are the best that I have tasted in Japan. Approachable, smooth, nice finish. Reminiscent of French styles without being a copy-cat. I bought a couple bottles of dry reds that went really well with a variety of bakery selections. While you are at Haramo, enjoy the cafe lunch specials while overlooking the vineyards.

Yamanashi Wine is also worth visiting, especially for the cellar tour, where you can surround yourself with aromatic barrels and beautifully-dusty aged bottles. In the tasting room, try the white and sweet wines – they are brilliant! Perfect for this upcoming summer.

Finally, there is Budo No Oka, which is situated on top of a lovely hill. It is a huge complex which includes hotel, onsen, vineyard, restaurants, gift shop, and tasting cave. Staying here overnight is the best way to fully enjoy the setting; because you are located on a hill, the views are breath-taking. If you can’t stay, at least try the wine-tasting. You are given a French-style tastevin, and then you enter a cave with open bottles, categorized by whites and reds, sweet to dry. This is a self-service experience (1,100 yen for unlimited tastes), so pace yourself! Your favorite bottles can be purchased in the gift shop.

Katsunuma is a day or overnight trip from Tokyo that is sure to give you an experience that you never thought possible in Japan. Wine country here is standing strong and waiting for your visit.

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Access:

Katsunuma-budokyo Station: 1.5 hours from Tokyo, accessible by the JR Chuo Line

Haramo Winery
3181 Katsunuma, Katsunuma-cho, Koshu City, 409-1316
TEL: 0553-44-0121
Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Tasting Fee: Complimentary (bottle purchase is recommended)
*Owner speaks English. Call ahead to see when he will be available.

Yamanashi Wine
835 Shimo-iwasaki Katsunuma-cho Koshu City, 409-1313
TEL: 0553-44-0111
E-mail: y-wine@yamanashiwine.co.jp
Hours: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
Tasting Fee: Complimentary (bottle purchase is recommended)
*Owner speaks English. Call or e-mail ahead to see when he will be available.

Budo No Oka
5093 Hishiyama, Katsunuma-cho, Koshu City, 409-1302
TEL: 0553-44-2111
Hours: 11 am – 5 pm
Website (Japanese): http://budounooka.com/
Tasting Price: 1,100 yen
Onsen: 600 yen (unless staying at the hotel)
*To book a room, call Budo No Oka directly (Japanese only). Prices vary by day and season.

Topics:    

Traveling, eating, writing through Nihon.
  • Audrey & Harry says:

    We love the idea of staying here…but is hope lost if we don’t speak a lick of Japanese? Any tips?

  • MrsSpooky says:

    I’m going to Tokyo very soon, would LOVE to visit one of these places! I love wine and especially winery tours. My Japanese is still pretty poor, but I might attempt it. Thanks for this, I was wondering about wine production in Japan. 🙂

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