The other evening I found myself drinking a nice drop of red and my mind was inspired to drift back to to my time living in the beautiful prefecture of Yamanashi. Why, you may ask, did this Argentinean vino remind me of my Japanese adventure? Well, though it may be a surprise to many, Japan is also home to a number of burgeoning vineyards, with arguably the best being found in…you’ve guessed it..Yamanashi!
For wine you need grapes, and these little orbs of goodness are abound in Yamanashi, particularly around the town of Katsunuma, about a 90 minute hop on the train west of Tokyo. Nestled against the eastern mountains forming the boundary of the Kofu basin, the soil is rich and fertile, so a perfect combination for cultivation. Though familiar varieties such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Merlot are grown it’s the native Koshu grape that’s the star. Big and bountiful, the Koshu grape is a bright lavender color and the white wine it produces is light, floral and tasty.
The origins of these grapes are, inevitably, the stuff of legend. Allegedly in 718, a monk called Gyoki was visited by a sacred Bodhisattva who appeared holding a bunch of grapes. Inspired, Gyoki carved this vision in wood, enshrined it in a temple and proceeded to teach the people of Katsunuma to grow what would become known as the Koshu grape.
Yamanashi wine making did not begin until late 19th century, but has gradually been refined to the point where bottles of Koshu wine are beginning to turn heads and wet palates abroad. If you ever find yourself in Yamanashi at the beginning of October (and with beautiful lakes, gorgeous scenery and the ever present Mt Fuji looming on the horizon why wouldn’t you) be sure to check out the Katsunuma Grape Festival, a chance to (over) indulge in the grapes, but more importantly, the wines of this lovely region. Now, where’s that corkscrew..?
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