Japan’s Premier Wine-Producing Region

On the 29th of March, 1868, the famous 300-strong samurai corps known as Shinsengumi, engaged a pro-imperial force 10 times its size at the battle of Koshu-Katsunuma. The members of Shinsengumi were loyal to the last Tokugawa Shogun, Yoshinobu. Yoshinobu wanted to maintain the status quo in Japan by keeping the country closed to outside influence and trade. Unfortunately for Shinsengumi, they were not on the right side of history. The overwhelming force of the pro-imperial combatants won the day, while 179 members of Shinsengumi were either killed or wounded. This battle is seen as decisive in the Boshin War of 1868-1869.

Why is this bit of history important? As it turns out, the defeat of the forces loyal to the last Shogun at the battle of Koshu-Katsunuma was a necessary step for the modernization of Japan. Although I sympathize with the members of Shinsengumi, a force that lived by the samurai code, Bushido, their defeat helped usher in rapid change for Japan. One of these changes meant that ordinary Japanese citizens could freely travel to foreign lands, and in the 1870s, two young men from Katsunuma did just that.

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They travelled to France to learn the art of winemaking, and the rest is history. Now, some 150 years after the battle of Koshu-Katsunuma, the area surrounding the historic battle site is producing fine wines that beg the attention of the rest of the world.

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Katsunuma’s Newest Winery

Today, Katsunuma boasts more than 30 operating wineries, and some of these wineries are producing excellent wines, especially white wines. On the 23rd of April, 2017, I attended the opening of Katsunuma’s newest winery, Matsuzuka Green Vineyards (MGVs), and tasted some excellent white wines.

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The prices of these wines are not cheap, but the volume of production is low while the quality is high. It is interesting to note that the winey is a joint venture between a semiconductor producer and a vineyard. In fact, the semiconductor side of the business has modified the winery’s imported machinery and storage facilities to ensure the highest possible quality control.

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However, there are some things you can’t improve on, such as oak-barrel aging. MGVs sources its barrels from around the globe to get the best possible results.

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In the end, however, the proof is in the tasting, and the tasting didn’t disappoint.

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Here I am with my drinking buddy in the MGVs tasting room.

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Kaikokuichinomiya Asama Shrine is a very attractive shrine in the vicinity of Katsunuma.

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One distinctive feature of this shrine is the display of local wines that have been donated by Katsunuma producers. Apparently, some of the wines are donated by the case.

UPDATE:

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It was a pleasure to join a special wine-tasting and food-pairing session at MGVs Winery on the 29th of January, 2018. An American wine writer, Alder Yarrow, the editor of “vinography.com,” was touring Katsunuma wineries, and I was asked by the owner of MGVs to help introduce his winery.

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Here is Mr. Yarrow (centre) tasting wine with the winemaker, Mr. Sodeyama (far right).

Although the winery’s owner, Mr. Matsuzaka, had chosen his favourite wines to accompany our lunch, i.e. the 2016 B521 GI YAMANASHI (Rosé) with salad, the 2016 K131 SHIMOKAWAKUBO (White) with the tempura and sashimi, and the 2016 B153 SHIMOIWASAKI (Red) with Koshu beef and abalone liver, Mr. Yarrow actually preferred the 2016 K131 KATSUNUMACHO (white).

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The Chief Winemaker, Mr. Sodeyama (left) and the Owner, Mr. Matsuzaka (right)

It was a delight to see the winemaker’s reaction when Mr. Yarrow chose the 2016 K131 KATSUNUMACHO (White) as his favourite MGVs wine from 2016. Both the winemaker and the owner were beaming with delight to discover that they had yet another recommended wine.

I wish MGVs a great 2017 Vintage!

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