Grape Globe is a series of easy-to-understand, quick bites of the basics needed to understand wine countries spanning from France to Chile to China. Stay tuned to learn about a new wine region every week.

Although globally better known for its sake and whisky, Japan is also a niche producer of boutique, high quality wines worth seeking out. 

Japan is one of the few Asian countries with a native wine grape, Koshu. Except for a few dominating producers, most Japanese wineries are family-owned and operated. You can find them throughout the country’s main wine regions: Hokkaido, Yamagata, Nagano, and Yamanashi.  Click on the map for a closer look. 

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Key Grapes:

Koshu is Japan’s most important indigenous grape variety. It’s a white wine grape that was introduced over a thousand years ago and belongs to the European Vitis vinifera family. Wines made from Koshu are typically delicate white wines with notes of citrus, peach, and clean, crisp, mineral flavours.

As for less traditional red grapes, Muscat Bailey A is a popular grape hybrid developed in Niigata Prefecture by crossing “Bailey” with “Muscat Hamburg.” 

Katsunuma Winery

Katsunuma Winery | Image from Travel Dreamscape

Main Regions

Hokkaido – located in the north, it’s Japan’s second largest island. Unlike Japan’s southern and central regions where there’s sweltering heat, Hokkaido is less humid and hot. Besides whisky and sake production, it also has the largest output of grapes for winemaking in Japan.

Nagano – located near the confluence of the Chikuma and the Sai rivers. Its high elevation, cool nights and warm days give the grapes a distinctive flavour. The low annual precipitation volume and the large number of sunny days create a relatively high sugar content in the grapes.

Yamagata – located in the Honshu Island and facing the Sea of Japan. It has long hot humid summers and long snowy winters. There are currently 12 wineries in this prefecture, such as Takeda and Tendo Winery.

Yamanashi – located in the Chūbu region in the main island of Honshu. This prefecture is known as the “Kingdom of Fruit” and accounts for 40% of domestic production of wine. There are more than 80 wineries in this prefecture. Koshu is widely planted here.  

Grace Winery

Grace Winery | Image from Travel Dreamscape

Fun Facts:

  • The Koshu grape is said to have travelled via the Silk Road from the Caucasus, across Central Asia, to China and finally to Japan.
  • The Japanese rank 18th in the world for wine consumption.
  • In terms of production, Japan is globally in 23rd place.
  • In the 16th century, missionaries brought wines as gifts for the feudal lords.
  • Many wineries send their young winemakers overseas, to hone in their winemaking skills before returning home to further perfect them there.
  • There’s a spa where you can swim in wine

More information about Koshu:

Wine map infographic and information:

Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker, is an award-winning wine judge, tv host, and HK winemaker

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