Wines Made in Japan?
Introducing Koshu, a distinctive and delicate white wine from Japan

The Koshu grape is one of the most prominent varieties native to Japan. This distinctively Japanese grape is grown primarily in Yamanashi Prefecture in the foothills of Mount Fuji, whose climatic extremes of heat and cold, long days of summer sunlight, and well-drained volcanic soils are especially suited for cultivating this fruit. Records show that winemaking in Japan started in 1874 in Yamanashi. Now there are 80 wineries in this prefecture alone.

Recently, a group of 12 wineries producing Koshu wine visited London on their European promotional tour to introduce this very unique and delicate brand of white wine. Their tasting event for more than 100 London-based importers, sommeliers and restaurant owners was very successful, and hopes are high for increased exports to the UK in the future.

Ayana Misawa (center) talking to guests at the Koshu wine tasting event in London.
Her brother Kazushi Misawa (left, at the counter) handles the winery’s marketing.

We caught up with Ms Ayana Misawa, a member of the promotion team and a winemaker of one of the wineries herself, to introduce us to the growing field of Japanese winemaking and its potential in the UK market.

What is Koshu wine like?

Koshu has a pale, lemon yellow colour and a soft, fruity bouquet with a hint of citrus and white peach. Its overall impression is clean, delicate and fresh, creating a lovely match for subtly flavoured foods - of course including various Japanese dishes. Its low alcohol content fits perfectly with health-conscious winelovers.

Does it go well with British food?

I am sure it could. At the recent tasting session in London, we matched Koshu with various types of British food, including dishes like old-fashioned fish pie. I heard that participants were surprised at how well Koshu went with a wide variety of menus. It must be because this variety of grape is restrained and refined. It is unobtrusive yet distinctive.

What is it like to be a winemaker in Japan?

I was born and raised in Yamanashi Prefecture, which produces almost half of the total wine production in Japan. I think being a winemaker is a familiar job to Europeans, but it is not in Japan. Also, winemaking is considered to be more of a male job, even in modern Japanese society.

To grow grapes and make wines following in my family's tradition, and to be able to study new techniques from vintage wine production around the world, makes me feel that to be a winemaker is such a lovely job. All of the effort you put into winemaking is reflected in the wine. And in turn, wineries contribute to the region’s development.

After the growing season in the vineyards and the harvest, I often travel around Japan and overseas on promotional tours.

In Japan, we have Koshu, our signature indigenous grape variety. My father is a pioneer of quality Koshu wines, and of course I like it myself. Demand is good in big places like Tokyo, which is just 100km from Yamanashi. However it is very important for me that more people get to know Koshu wine outside the local market as well.
Can I get Koshu wine in the UK?

There are some wine stores in London where you can find several brands of Koshu, as well as several Japanese restaurants which serve them too. However, access to these wines is still somewhat limited. I hope we can work to increase the exports of Koshu wine to the UK, so many more people can meet and discover its flavor.

For more info on Koshu wine, please refer to http://www.koshuofjapan.co.uk/.