Legend claims that grape-growing in Japan began in 718 AD, in Katsunuma, Yamanashi Prefecture. Wine may have been made from the Koshu grape variety indigenous to Japan - which has been known in Japan for over 1000 years - but the first documented case of regular wine consumption in Japan was in the 16th century, when the Jesuit missionaries arrived from Portugal. Saint Francis Xavier brought wines as gifts and other missionaries continued the practice, resulting in locals acquiring taste for wine and importing it regularly. They called the Portuguese wine chintashu, combining the Portuguese word tinto (chinta in Japanese) meaning red and shu meaning liquor.
Regular wine making began in Japan with the adoption of Western culture during the Meiji restoration in the second half of the 19th century, with the main regions of wine production are Hokkaidō and Yamanashi Prefecture. It was not until after World War II that the scale of winemaking began to grow. However, in comparison to imported bulk juice and bottled wine, domestic Japanese wine is still developing. For Japanese tastes, the astringency and acidity in wines were not appreciated in the beginning - and for a long time sugars such as honey were added to soften the flavour.
During the 1970s and 80s the skill level of wine making increased and vine plantings spread - with wineries producing quality wines using only pure domestic cultivation, and began to receive good reviews internationally.
After a diversification of Japanese food culture, and growing awareness of the beneficial effects of polyphenol (tannins), an understanding of real wine in recent years has come about, also a groundwork has been laid out by the promotion of high quality domestically produced wines.
To cope with the differing climate in Japan, varying canopy techniques are used. In areas of high humidity, such as Yamagata, an elevated vine canopy is used to keep the fruit-zone about 2-3 meters above the ground to allow ventilation. Higher in the mountains, such as Tochigi, where good sunlight is restricted with the rough terrain, winemakers have planted vines on steep hillsides both to receive maximum sunlight, as well as protect the vines against damage from heavy snowfall.
Japanese vineyards are owned by mostly independent growers (approx 80,000), which gave rise to co-operatives. With vineyards tending to be very small (about 5 acres) producing wine in co-operatives is a sensible decision.
Mark of Origin: (Gensanchi Hyōji) is a system of legal designation for wine produced in Japan, much like France's Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOP) laws. In Japan there is no nationwide organization of legal designation, regardless of domain of origin or types of grape, anything that is fermented domestically can be labeled as Japanese wine. However, independent self-governing municipal bodies have begun systems of regional appellation. For example, Nagano Prefecture's ‘Appellation Control System’ (Nagano-ken Gensan-chi Koshō Kanri Seido), and Kōshū's ‘Wine Domain of Origin Certification Regulation’.