Wine enthusiasts traveling to Japan may be surprised to learn that Japan’s wine-making dates back to the Meiji period, when Japan first opened its doors to the Western world. In modern day Japan, quality wines are produced in several areas including Nagano, Hokkaido, Niigata and Katsunuma.
Katsunuma, located in the eastern part of Kofu Valley in Yamanashi Prefecture is the center of viticulture in Japan. Known as the Town of Grapes and Wine, the distinctive Koshu grapes have been grown here for more than 1,200 years! There are presently more than 30 wineries in this region. Wine aficionados from all over Japan and abroad come to visit these wineries and enjoy the unique wines produced in Katsunuma.
The wineries range from the larger, more famous ones like Suntory, Chateau Mercian and Grace to much smaller and less well known wineries, like Domaine Chateraise, Chateau Soryu, L’Orient and Asaya.
Japan’s unique wine is made from the Koshu grape and the process is pretty arduous. You simply cannot crush and ferment this grape. Due to Japan’s humid climate, wine makers have to extract the sugar from the Koshu grapes, make sure all of the percentages are just right and then go through the fermenting process. As a result, one gets a white wine that pairs perfectly with Wa Shoku (Japanese cuisine)! Japanese producers also produce red wines and other whites. I found their Cabernets to be very light on the palate and sweeter than our California wines.
If you want to visit the Katsunuma wine country, it is only an hour and a half away from Tokyo. Unfortunately, the area is considered the countryside and English is not readily spoken here. When you arrive at the Katsunuma-budokyo Station, the main mode of transportation from here on is by taxi. Another option would be to rent a car from Tokyo and drive to Katsunuma.
Most tastings are complimentary, but bottle purchases are recommended.
If you have time, visit Budo No Oka, situated on top of a hill with breathtaking views. This is a huge complex which includes a hotel, onsen, vineyard, restaurants, gift shop and tasting cave.
Budo No Oka
5093 Hishiyama, Katsunuma-cho, Koshu City, 409-1302
Hours: 11 am – 5 pm
Tasting Price: 1,100 yen
Onsen: 600 yen (unless staying at the hotel)