One Vine Day…
Katsunuma's Grape Festival is a fine opportunity to learn about Japanese wines
Those who follow trends in alcoholic beverages may know, that Japan`s whiskies have done very well in international competitions. For example, Distiller Suntory was named` Distiller of the Year` at the International Spirit Challenge this year-for the third consecutive time.
Japanese wines have yet to reach similar heights of distinction, but for those who would appreciate a chance to sample a wide variety in one place - and combine it with a lovely setting away from the hustle of Tokyo - the picturesque town of Katsunuma, about 200 kilometers from Tokyo, offers an excellent opportunity in the form of the 'Katsunuma Grape Festival' （勝沼ぶどう祭り）, in October.
Japan's Napa Valley
Known as Japan's answer to Napa Valley, the area has a cooler and drier climate than average for Japan and in fact grows a variety of fresh fruit, some non-grape varieties of which, find its way into locally made wine also. But upon arriving in town it's immediately clear that the grape is king. The vines, and the trellis structures that support them, are everywhere-in open lots, between buildings, in large fields.
Unlike the familiar 'California seedless' grape in the U.S., many varieties of wine grapes are also popular as table snacks in Japan and can be bought in bunches at farm markets and at the festival. The setting is made more scenic by the many traditional tiled and hipped rooftops of buildings. Add to that greenery covered mountains surrounding Katsunuma, and there's plenty of reason to visit even without the festival.
Also worthy of note is the Beaujolais festival, which happens in November and is centered around the 'Budo no Oka' wine promotion center. By then however, the vines are withered and the greenery has largely fled the hills, so for photo opportunities the October festival is a better choice.
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The festival has tents arranged in a large circle, with wines on one side and food on the other-there is no worry about drinking on an empty stomach. There is also a stage with live music, and several small parades with participants carrying 'Mikoshi' portable shrines.
As for the wine itself, Japanese wine in general tends more toward light and refreshing. Tipplers seeking European-style depth and complexity may have some trouble finding something to their liking, but if you're open to the experience of trying wines from an amazing country famed not least for it's food & drink, with a long history... just not in winemaking, there is plenty of variety, from bone-dry to very sweet, and as mentioned before several fruit wines are also on offer. Market giant Mercian has a tent, as well as numerous smaller vintners. Those traveling by car - and able to observe the no drinking and driving caveat - can also visit numerous wineries in the area. All in all it's a very worthwhile journey.
A good list of the surrounding Wineries can be found in this article from Japan National Tourism Organization