Grapes have been grown in Japan for making wine for over 150 years. There are wild mountain grapes that are indigenous, but were not used for wine making until the 1970s. Vitis Vinifera grapes arrived in Japan around 1300 years ago, carried along the Silk Road through China. But they were not used for wine making until the late 1800s.
In the past 30 years a modern winemaking industry has progressively emerged and extended to new regions Japan. Now there is significant winemaking in 12 Prefectures – extending from the far North island of Hokkaido to the southern island of Kyushu, with climate ranging from extreme cold to subtropical.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries statistics show a total surface area of vineyards for the production of wine totalling 2,389 hectares in 2015, producing 22,541 tonnes of grapes for winemaking.
The number of wineries now stands at 243 nationally. Of these, 81 wineries are in Yamanashi Prefecture, 32 are in Nagano Prefecture, 28 in Hokkaido Prefecture and 12 in Yamagata prefecture.
The most widely planted grape variety is Koshu, the Vitis Vinifera variety that arrived in Japan about 1300 years ago being carried across the Silk Road through China. Today it represents 17% of the wine grape vineyard area nationally. The other varieties accounting for significant proportions of national wine grape vineyards are table grape varieties introduced from North America or hybrids deriving from crossings of these varieties with local grapes or imported Vitis Vinifera grapes. Among the white grapes in this category, the largest plantings are of Niagara (11.8%) and Delaware (7.6%); of the red grapes the largest plantings are of Muscat Bailey A (15.2%), Concord (7.1%) and Campbell Early (5.6%).
Of the classic European varieties, the most widely planted white grapes are Chardonnay (4.8%) and Kerner (1.9%); for red grapes they are Merlot (5.4%) Cabernet Sauvignon (2.1%) and Zweigeltrebe (1.5%).
In addition, there are expanding plantings of varieties that are crossings of the indigenous wild mountain grapes and classic Vitis Vinifera varieties – notably, Yamabudo (1.3%), Black Queen (1.3%) and Yama Sauvignon (1.0%).