The History of Winemaking in Yamanashi, Japan – Japan Winecast
This first podcast on Japan's unique wine scene focuses on the history of wine in the island nation. It starts by looking at evidence of ancient grape fermentation by Japan's Jōmon people (14,000 BCE to 1,000 BCE), and then moves on to the origin story of Japan's indigenous grape variety, Kōshū. Next, we'll follow two young men, Ryuken Tsuchiya (1858-1940) and Masanari Takano (1852-1923), on their journey to France to learn the art of winemaking. After that, we'll learn about the geology and climate of Japan's premier winegrowing region, Yamanashi. Finally, we'll learn more about Yamanashi's Kōshū wines.
Please enjoy this sequel to my first full-day walking tour of Japan’s premier winery region.
This walking tour of Japan’s premier winery region begins at Haramo Winery (est. 1924). Although Haramo’s main building was constructed in 1884, the winery has only been operating for about 100 years. If you have lunch or tea in their café, which is open from April to the end of November, you’ll see how a Kōshū-gable-type house looks from the inside. Such houses have a central gable that once allowed for air circulation on the uppermost floor where silkworms chewed their way through piles of mulberry leaves. Many of the vineyards in the Kōshū area were once filled with mulberry trees for the express purpose of feeding millions of these silkworms. However, after World War Two, the fields were quickly transformed into pergola-style vineyards of highly-prized table grapes. Although Katsunuma’s vineyards produce the most delicious table grapes I have ever eaten, I am more interested in the surrounding area’s 80+ wineries!
The Japanese doma (dirt place) is an area which is normally found in traditional Japanese homes like Haramo’s main building. A doma is an area of hard compacted dirt that extends the size of the entranceway and functions much like an American porch. However, unlike an American porch, the doma is an indoor space. Haramo Winery has transformed its doma into a very attractive tasting area by tiling the floor and installing a long tasting counter. Until today, people in Japan enter such indoor spaces to announce their presence. This is very different from America where you would never enter someone’s home without their permission. When you enter Haramo’s tasting room, you are continuing a tradition that predates the winery. Haramo’s doorway is less of a barrier than you might imagine. You are still considered to be outside, but you are inside. This communicates much about the intimate traditions that continue to shape daily life in modern Japan.
Take a look at this architectural drawing on the back wall of the winery’s tasting room. Look closely at the red lines that intersect the centre of the drawing to get an idea of how important Feng Shui was to the ancestors of the current operator of the winery. Such historic drawings are an artistic delight!
During the warmer months, you can sit under the shade of the pergola while you taste a clean, crisp Kōshū wine. I quite like the Kōshū that’s barrel-aged in French Oak for 11 months. Haramo doesn’t produce any Muscat Bailey A, but it does produce a Black Queen which is another of Kawakami Zembei’s hybrid grapes. If you are looking for something more recognizable, you might want to try Haramo’s Merlot.
Haramo’s 3rd-generation owner studied winemaking in France as a young man and returned to Yamanashi to develop a wine that he would like to drink. When it comes to food, he told me, the Japanese people love freshness above all else, and that is why they keep seasoning to a minimum in their cuisine. I don’t know any place where farmers invest as much time in nurturing quality produce as the farmers in Japan do. Yes, Japanese produce is expensive, but it is the best. You will definitely be able to find less expensive fruit and veg in your home country, but it is often of inferior quality. It takes time to grow the best produce, and time means money. In the pursuit of efficiency, many overseas factory farms have made the decision to cultivate heartier varieties that may not taste quite as good. However, due to Japan’s strict protection for its farmers, such produce cannot be imported to the country. This means things are expensive, like Japanese rice which is protected by a 700% import duty, but it also means that the fruits here are awesome! When it comes to food, I must reiterate that the Japanese value freshness above all else. When you try their delicate Kōshū wines, remember that these wines were made to accompany washoku, that is, Japanese cuisine. This wine is not meant to accompany Italian, French or any other cuisine. It suits the sensitive taste of the Japanese.
Freshness is the most prized ingredient in Japanese cuisine, so why would we make a wine that masks its subtle flavours?–Shintaro Furuya
Haramo is open daily from 9:00~17:00 (9:30~16:30 on Sundays). The café, Casa da Noma, is open from 11:00~17:00 (closed on Mondays). The cafe is very popular, so be sure to arrive early to get a seat. The owner says tasting is free but proper etiquette dictates that you buy a bottle of wine.
The old Tanaka Bank is the next stop on your itinerary. I just love this building with its interpretation of Western-style architecture. The roof is 100% Japanese but the rest of the building looks like it could be anywhere in Europe. Japanese interpretations of Western architecture are a recurring theme in Hayao Miyazaki’s popular animated feature films, so don’t be surprised if the building evokes this aesthetic. This structure is one of many Western-style buildings constructed by the famous Japanese temple builder, Terushige Matsuki.
When the building is open during the warmer months, you’ll be able to see right through to the backyard.
The woodwork on the interior of the building has a distinct Japanese feel but that is what makes it worth taking a look at. Go upstairs and look out to the street below. You can almost imagine you have travelled back in time.
Don’t forget to go into the backyard of the Tanaka Bank to see a number of old kura (Storage buildings). The old Tanaka Bank is open from 9:00~16:00. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays from April to October, and it is only open on the weekends between November and March.
This historic footbridge along the Hi River, Hikawa, can be seen as you descend the pathway to the next winery on your itinerary. As you walk downhill, look to the east to see the Meganebashi (eyeglasses bridge). Once you have spotted the bridge, it will be about time to make a sharp right turn. Follow the narrow path heading west with the Hi River on your left. Be careful not to misstep or get poked by any unruly bamboo as you admire the vineyards below and the view of the South Alps on the western horizon.
I have already written about the next winery on your itinerary, Château Mercian and Miyakoen, so please click the link below to get more details. If you enjoy history as much as I do, you’ll want to save the wine tasting until you have visited the two museums on site. In addition to wine tasting, you can have a light lunch at Château Mercian’s wine gallery.
If you feel like something more substantial for lunch, you might want to try Keisenan Hoto Restaurant (Open every day but Tuesday from 11:00~16:00) for a hearty meal of thick noodles in a miso stew. The hoto restaurant is located near the end of the narrow pathway. The menu is really simple: squash hoto ¥1,300/ meat hoto ¥1,400/ Keisen set ¥1,600/ Ozara (cold noodles on the side with soup for dipping) ¥900/ coffee & sweets.
Kurambon Winery is your last port of call on this tour but feel free to continue on to another winery if you think you have time. Kurambon is open from 9:00~17:00, but I noticed they are often closed in the mornings during the winter months. The owner told me that they are only open from 13:00~17:00 on the weekdays, and 9:00~12:00 & 13:00~17:00 on the weekends. Again, this winery’s main building is another fine example of a Kōshū-gable-type house.
Go inside to get a feel for traditional Japanese architecture.
You must experience Kurambon’s rustic, yet tasteful, showroom located at the centre of this lovingly-maintained, 140-year-old house. The winery, which has been in operation since 1913, offers wine tasting for a very reasonable ¥500 per person.
If you are lucky, you might be able to join their tour at 14:00 (weekdays) or at 11:00 (weekends), but the tours are only conducted in Japanese and you must reserve online using a Japanese form:
The taxi drivers at JR Chuo Line’s Enzan Station (south exit) are very accommodating to foreign visitors and will do their utmost to take you wherever you want to go. It is their job to know the winery scene as they ferry customers to the various wineries on a daily basis. On your return journey to the station from the last winery on your itinerary, you can call a taxi at: 055-332-3200. The person who answers may not be very proficient in English, but if you keep it simple, you should be fine:
Customer: Taxi, please. Kurambon Winery to Enzan Station (speak slowly and repeat if necessary).
Taxi Company: 10 minutes…
The taxi fare from JR Enzan Station to Haramo Winery is ¥2,000, and the fare back from Kurambon Winery to JR Enzan Station is ¥2,500. These taxi fares reflect 2020 prices. In addition, most of the taxis can only accommodate 4 passengers.
If you are carrying bags that you do not particularly want to drag around with you all day, you can put them in a locker at JR Enzan Station. Be forewarned that there are not many lockers, so there is no guarantee that one will be available, particularly on weekends.
Please use the following JR schedules (subject to change each year) to help plan your visit to Japan’s premier winery region:
For anyone considering including a winery tour on their way to Matsumoto Castle:
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