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Regular wine making began in Japan with the adoption of Western culture during the Meiji restoration in the second half of the 19th century, although it was not until after World War II that the scale of winemaking began to grow. In comparison to imported juices and bulk wine, domestic Japanese wine is still developing.

In terms of Japanese tastes, the astringency and acidity were not accepted at the beginning and for a long time sugars such as honey were added to moderate the flavour – “sweet” (amakuchi) wine was the mainstay. To consumers of the time wine was recognised only by types like Kotobukiya’s (Suntory) Red Sun Port Wine (Akadama Pōto Wain). This trend continued until the 1970s when wine was still fundamentally known as grape liquor (budōshu), and a small minority imported European wine.

Further DevelopmentGrape VarietiesRegions & Designation
More recently, after moderation of taxes on imported wines and growing awareness of the beneficial effects of polyphenol (tannins), an understanding of real wine has come about. Furthermore a groundwork has been laid out by the promotion of high quality domestically produced wines. From 2002 onward, leading with Yamanashi Prefecture, a competition focused on “Japanese wine using only 100% Japanese grapes” began – it is open to anyone from individual makers to large producers competing with only the best quality domestic wines.
“Muscat Bailey-A” is a red wine grape that was developed in Japan by Zenbei Kawakami (1868–1944) at the Iwanohara Winery in Niigata Prefecture. Kawakami’s goal was to develop a grape for wine adapted to Japan’s climate. He did this by mixing the “Bailey” type grape with “Muscat Hamburg” to give birth to a red wine grape that is widely used in Japan. Also developed by Kawakami was the variety known as “Black Queen”.

The Yamanashi Prefecture at the base of Mount Fuji is home to Japan’s Koshu grape. According to DNA research at the University of California Koshu is a hybrid of vitis vinifera and an unidentifiable, wild variety. Modern Koshu wine is bone dry, light and crisp with subtle citrus flavours. Producers such as Grace Winery are some of the best exponents of this unique variety.
The main regions for wine production are Hokkaidō and Yamanashi Prefecture.

“Mark of Origin” (Gensanchi Hyōji) is a system of legal designation for wine produced in Japan, quite similar France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée laws.

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