Q&A with Makoto Endo on the Japanese Wine Market (Part 1)

25 November 2010
Author: Jeannie Cho Lee

Last week,The Peninsula Tokyopresented the Third Annual Cirque Culinaire, four days of learning, wining and dining with top international professionals in the culinary, wine-making and brewing arts.  


One interesting seminar was a wine tasting of domestic wines from every wine making region in Japan with Makoto Endo. The Japanese author and wine expert kindly spent some time with Asian Palate for a two-part Q&A session on the growing interest in wine making and wine consumption in Japan.


Part one featured today focuses on the trends in Japan’s wine making industry:


1.    The production of wines in Japan has been steady in the past few years? How big is the domestic wine market? any significant trends you can point out?


There isn’t any significant increase in the wine production; I say the production remains at the same level. The size of the market is about 90,000 kiloliter (10 million cases), ten percent of the raw materials are from domestic and the rest are from international.


2.    It appears that Koshu wines are starting to gain interest in the international market, why is that? What is Koshu and why do you think it is becoming popular in the International market? Which countries are they exported to?


Koshu grapes typically are used as raw materials for producing white wine. Yamanashi prefecture used to be called “Koshu” long time ago, and that is the reason why the name of the grapes which were grown in Yamanashi prefecture became “Koshu grapes”. In fact, Koshu grapes spread in Japan around year 700 to 1200. It is said that Koshu grapes were indigenous to Japan, however it happened to be common grape vines after the result of a DNA testing of their seeds. For this reason, it is now said that the grapes were introduced from China along the Silk Road, but the true ancestry is still unknown. Rarely grown grapes outside of Japan, Koshu grapes are becoming more popular as they truly representing the Japanese breed. Moreover, Koshu wines have light and refreshing flavor which perfectly paired with Japanese healthy cuisine which foreign countries are paying attention to these days. Koshu grapes have been exported to Europe, mainly to England, but the concrete numbers have not revealed yet as they have just started the process. Koshu was registered by the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) in 2010 and Koshu wine won a gold trophy as the “Best wine with sashimi” at the International Wine and Spirits Competition, held in Hong Kong at the beginning of November.


3.    How many wineries are there in Japan? Is majority of the production still limited to 5 major producers? Do you the Japanese market, will be open to the growth of boutique wineries in Japan?


There are about 200 wineries in Japan, 70% to 80% of the entire wines are produced by five major producers. I haven’t heard that the major producers are holding back the boutique wineries to open for the public, but the distribution process is still hard for those small boutique wineries to reach the mass markets.


4.    For wine production in Japan, it is said that 75% of the ingredients are imported ingredients? Why is that? Do you see a decline in the use of imported ingredients?


The development of viniculture in Japan was first meant for eating raw grapes. Currently, over 90% of the grapes are eaten fresh and selling raw grapes can be more profitable than making into wines; for that reason, it is hard to set aside grapes for wine making process.  Also, Agricultural Land Act restricts companies to own lands, so most of them do not own any lands themselves and solely rely on grapes from other agricultural cooperative or local farmers. And those agricultural cooperative and local farmers know how labor-intensive and less profitable the wine making process is, which makes them not pay so much attention to growing grapes for wines. In addition, domestic grown grapes are more expensive than international grapes imported from abroad- that is why, in many cases, international grapes are used for the wines.


5.    What wine regions in Japan would be interesting to visit and to look out for?


Yamanashi prefecture is one of the locations worth visiting, the region that has 80 wineries (#1 in Japan) and over 40% of the wines are produced in. Katsunuma region especially has the most wineries in Yamanashi prefecture. Nagano prefecture is #2 in Japan, which has 22 wineries and Hokkaido has 18 wineries, all very unique which tourists can definitely enjoy the tour at the site.

Mr. Makoto Endo is the author of: A Guide to Japan’s Wineries (Shinjusha) – May 2004, along with co-author: Mr Yamamoto Hiroshi. His second book, Wines from Eastern Japan, also co-authored with Mr. Yamamoto Hiroshi is expected to be released in December 2010.  


Posted on 25 November 2010