Japan may not be the country in Asia that has the largest wine consumption, but it the most mature and sophisticated wine market in Asia. It is not surprising that Japanese wine lovers are so enamoured with Burgundy, not only does it pair beautifully with its subtle, artistic cuisine but it is also a complex region. In December 2013, Simon Berry of Berry Brothers & Rudd said, “People usually start with Bordeaux because it is simpler. But in Burgundy, they delight in making it complicated — and that goes down well in Japan. The more complicated it is, the more they like it here.”
While the vast majority of wines distributed in Japan are imported, Japanese winemakers are optimistic about the future for their local wines. Fujino Katsuhisa, the winemaker of Chateau Mercian, is very hopeful about the future of Japanese wine. Chateau Mercian is one of the biggest wineries in Japan with a long history dating back to 1877. The winery is popular for major grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but they are becoming better known for its Koshu, a Japanese indigenous grape variety producing aromatic whites.
During Fujino’s last visit to Hong Kong in November 2013, he shared with us some thoughts about his winery and the Japanese wine market.
AP: Asian Palate FK: Fujino Katsuhisa
AP: Can you please tell us about the current state of Japanese wine exports? What is your most significant export market now?
FK: There is a very small quantity of exportation of Japanese wines, meaning less than 1% compared to the domestic sales. Currently, our major export market for the Chateau Mercian series is the United States – several hundred cases per year.
AP: Japan’s wine market is quite mature as it is already one of significant markets for a lot wines from other countries, but we are wondering if there has there been a growing interest for Japanese wine locally?
FK: The Japanese wine market is still very small, taking up less than 3% of the total alcoholic beverage consumption, and currently approximately 70% of the wines in Japan are imported. There is definitely room for expansion though, as we Japanese do love wine!
AP: Can you please describe to us the terroir of the Yamanashi prefecture which your winery is located in? What are the major challenges/difficulties in producing wines in this area?
FK: The Yamanashi prefecture is located on the mountainside, in the middle part of Japan, like the Nagano prefecture. There is not a lot of rain compared to the other areas in Japan. Our biggest challenge in the vineyards is to fight the diseases caused by precipitation during typhoon or rainy seasons.
AP: Please recommend a few Japanese dishes that pair well with Chateau Mercian.
FK: The wines that I produce are quite delicate, as are the majority of other Japanese wines. Therefore, sushi, sashimi or tempura would all go very well with my wines.