While grapes have long been cultivated in Japan, it is only in the last hundred years of so that wine has been produced there. It wasn’t until the Meiji restoration when Western culture began to be widely adopted that the idea of using grapes to make wine really arose in the country.
Although 110,000 kilolitres of wine is produced in Japan every year, only 25% of that amount is made from grapes that have been actually grown domestically and harvested in the country.
Japan’s premier winemaking region is Yamanasni Prefecture. Here, 40% of domestic wine production is carried out, even though grapes are also grown, and wine produced in smaller quantities in other parts of the country including Hokkaido and Miyazaki Prefecture.
The Japanese terrain and climate produces its own challenges for the Japanese wine making industry, and techniques used to cultivate vines have had to be adapted extensively to meet the nation’s needs. Where there is high levels of humidity in the summer months, a technique called Tanajitate, which involves using elevated horizontal hedging, keeps the fruit at around 3 metres above the ground so ventilation can be facilitated. Another effective technique which has been adopted has been the use of horizontal trellises to reduce the possibility of damage from the wind. Soil erosion is often prevented on sloping terrain by planting Italian rye grass.
Wine production saved the town of Ikeda in Hokkaido from bankruptcy, leading it to become a successful wine growing region by 1980. Yamagata is another well known Japanese region. Yamagata is home to many well-known wine producers thanks to its suitable soil and history of wine production during the Second World War.