Wine moves north to Hokkaido


Denis Gastin, the Australian with a particular interest in Asian wines, and especially those of Japan, sends this report. 

I was in Hokkaido (Japan) last week where I had been invited to present the keynote address at a seminar arranged by the Hokkaido Wine Academy [see below in the vineyard, with Denis the obviously non-Japanese bearded chap – JR]  – providing an overview on the wine industry in Asia, and where Japan is positioned. This visit provided me with a great opportunity to update myself on the really outstanding progress of the industry in this rather unlikely environment – with an extreme cold climate, along the lines of Western China. My previous visit had been in 2013.

In 2000, there were just eight wineries in Hokkaido, the large island in the far north of Japan; now there are 33. The largest producer in Hokkaido, Hokkaido Wine, is now the largest wine producer in Japan. In contrast to the rest of Japan, it has very large-scale viticulture, owning and operating about 150 ha (370 acres) as well as drawing on about 40 contract grape growers. A large-scale vineyard on the main island, Honshu, is about 10 ha.

There has been tremendous progress beyond the original operations essentially based on Vitis labrusca and indigenous (Yamabudo) varieties and hybrids. Now, in addition to widespread plantings of Kerner, Pinot Blanc, Müller Thurgau, Bacchus, Gewürztraminer, Zweigelt, Lemberger and Seibel, there has been great progress with cold-hardy varieties such as  Regent and Rondo that are now producing surprisingly good wines. [Below are some dramatic pictures of Hokkaido in winter.]

For your information, Hokkaido Wine has now joined the Asian Wine Producers Association, our third Japanese member: the others being Ch Mercian and Tsuno Wine (from subtropical Miyazaki Prefecture, on Kyushu Island). We have also recently admitted our first member from South Korea to the AWPA – giving us members from seven Asian countries now.