Updated: Mar 17, 2021
This may be surprising for many, but there are basically wineries ALL OVER JAPAN.
As you can see from this 'Regional map of Japan Wine' from National Tax Agency, it is hard to spot even one prefecture in Japan that does not have a winery, and the overall number of wineries in Japan is growing fast.
(winery is indicated by the purple 'WI' icon, and the number next to it is the number of wineries in that prefecture)
As shared in the 'What is Japanese Wine' article, there are currently more than 300 wineries in Japan, and around 96% of these wineries are small-to-medium size companies, with capital below 300 million yen and fewer than 300 employees.
Due to Japan's narrow geographical feature that stretches all the way northeast, diverse weather conditions and terrains provide distinct characteristics to wine produced in the different regions of Japan. From freezing cold winters in Hokkaido, to stubbornly hot summers in southwest of Japan.
Wouldn't it be amazing to do a road trip one day and visit all the wineries in Japan?
There are 4 main regions in Japan that produce wine
Yamanashi - 85 wineries
Nagano - 38 wineries
Hokkaido - 37 wineries
Yamagata - 15 wineries
Undoubtedly the first prefecture to come to mind when people talk about regions in Japan that produce wine, and that is for a reason.
Yamanashi Prefecture is #1 in Japan in terms of:
number of wineries
Yamanashi, also known as the "Kingdom of Fruit”, accounts for roughly 40% of wine production in Japan. Within Yamanashi, wine production and wineries are further concentrated in 'Katsunuma City' that is located in central Yamanashi, which is also the birthplace of Japanese Wine.
When speaking of Yamanashi Wine, a grape variety that cannot go unmentioned is Koshu, a white wine grape variety native to Japan that has a refreshing acidity and a very clean flavor. Koshu is the perfect match for some of the most popular Japanese dishes in the world, like sushi, sashimi and tempura.
Also worth noting that many Yamanashi Wine have in recent years, received awards from Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA), one of the world's largest and most influential wine competition, so definitely worth a visit to next time you are in Japan, especially considering it is only a 2 hour train ride from Tokyo!
Next up we have Nagano Prefecture, the second largest region in Japan in terms of wine production. Nagano has a good combination of both wineries with long history and wineries that are just newly-opened, ready to give their take on what it takes to produce the best Japanese Wine, or even better, the best Nagano Wine.
With the wine industry highly supported by local government, regions in Nagano that produce wine are branded in 2018 as the 'Shinshu Wine Valley' (Nagano is also known as 'Shinju'). The broad term of Shinshu Wine Valley is then further classified into 4 smaller valleys:
Nihon Alps Wine Valley
Chikumagawa Wine Valley
Kikyogahara Wine Valley
Tenryugawa Wine Valley
Nihon Alps Wine Valley has characteristics of high altitude with cool temperature, varieties grown include Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir.
Chikumagawa Wine Valley is Nagano's up-and-coming region, vineyards here enjoy lots of sunlight, with little rain. Grape varieties grown in this valley are mostly European, including Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the wines made from grapes of this region have won awards at international wine competitions.
Kikyogahara Wine Valley is located in Shiojiri city, the southern part of the large Matsumoto Basin, and has geographical features of having very gentle slopes. Common varieties grown in Kikyogahara Wine Valley include Niagara and Concord, however, Merlot grown in this region has been receiving high international recognition in recent years. Shiojiri was the first city in Japan to study and research on soil most suitable for growing Merlot.
Tenryugawa Wine Valley that is located in the southern part of Nagano Prefecture has a slightly warmer climate compared to the other three valleys. Varieties grown in this region include Merlot, Chardonnay, and the Japanese-native 'Yamabudou'.
Coming in third, a close-tie with Nagano, is Hokkaido.
Hokkaido is one of the most popular regions in Japan that is attracting more and more new wineries to open in, with number of wineries tripling in just 10 years.
Surrounded in all four directions by the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk, Hokkaido is home to a variety of magnificent mountains, extensive wetlands, beautiful lakes, rivers, forests and more. Most areas do not have rainy seasons, are less hot, and are least affected areas by typhoons, thus a great choice to grow grapes for wine.
There are 4 main areas within Hokkaido that produce wine:
It is said that the first vines planted for wine-making in Hokkaido was back in the year 1875, but wine production only started to scale up after 1970s.
With Hokkaido's colder temperatures, grape varieties grown in Hokkaido include Kerner, Muller Thurgau, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Niagara.
When it comes to red wine grape varieties, one that's been gaining popularity is 'Pinot Noir', in fact, more than half of 'Pinot Noir' of Japan are grown in Hokkaido. Hokkaido's production of 'Pinot Noir' will continue to be in focus going forward.
Ranking in number four in wine production in Japan is Yamagata Prefecture.
Yamagata is located in the Honshu Island facing the Sea of Japan. It has long hot humid summers and long snowy winters.
There are currently 15 wineries in this prefecture, including the more renowned wineries such as Takeda Winery and Tendo Winery.
Grape varieties grown in Yamagata include Delaware, Niagara, Yama-Sauvignon, Seibi1. Worth noting that Yamagata is the number one prefecture in Japan in terms of production of Delaware Wine.
For those wondering, Yama-Sauvignon is a cross breed of Yamabudou (Japanese native) & Cabernet Sauvignon, a red wine grape variety created by a Yamanashi University Professor. With the cross-breed variety, it is able to sustain the brutal winter in Japan, is strong against infections or grape diseases, but yet able to maintain the elegant taste of Cabernet Sauvignon.