Non-traditional Winemaking Regions: Japan

April 27, 2018

By Erin Norton

Japan is much better known for its rice-wine, Sake, than for grape wine, but their industry is more developed than you might think.  Wine has been made in Japan since the late 19th century, but increased more drastically in the latter half of the 20th century due to Western influences on cuisine and other cultural impacts.

The major varieties grown and made into wine include Koshu and Muscat Bailey A. Koshu is a white hybrid variety that was bred from Japanese native grapes and other varieties that were brought to Japan more than 1,000 years ago along the “silk road."  Muscat Bailey A is a red hybrid that was bred in the 1920’s from Muscat of Hamburg and Bailey. Other varieties they produce include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The four major producing areas are Yamanashi, Hokkaido, Nagano and Yamagata. These regions have vastly different climates, but in general, the summers are all wet and humid in comparison to European wine-growing regions.

Japanese Wine Meets Big Data

Recently the industry has turned to the use of technology to improve the quality of their grapes and subsequently their wine. With weather monitors and other sensors throughout the vineyard, some grape growers are able to apply their fungicides less often, and with more confidence of preventing an outbreak. In conjunction with local universities, data is being collected from grape growers and from weather stations to develop generalized models for growing regions. One researcher noted, “If data from all the growers is collected and shared, they will have the opportunity to learn from their neighbors. Even if there is something they do not know, the next generation may discover it. Right now we’re at the starting line for enriching everyone’s knowledge.”

There seem to be plenty of similarities in the struggles that Japanese grape growers face with our own growers here in the Midwest. We hope this article inspires you to think outside the box in our challenging growing conditions.

Other facts:

Japan Wineries Association: