FURUSATO REVOLUTION III: Koshu: From Yamanashi to the World

A female winemaker in Yamanashi Prefecture is devoting her life to the development and dissemination of wine made from Koshu, the first wine grape variety of Japanese origin.

Grace Wine is located in Akeno-mura, Yamanashi Prefecture, in a valley which enjoys the longest sunshine hours in Japan and relatively little rain. 

[From TJJ Jul/Aug 2017]

The government believes that encouraging women’s participation in the workplace will bring economic growth to Japan.

As they say, perspectives unique to women can contribute to the promotion of consumption, an organization’s ability to handle a crisis, and more. This is also true in regional revitalization.

Here is an example of a woman who has played a leading role in the Furusato (Hometown) Revolution.

At the Decanter World Wine Awards, one of the world’s largest and most trusted wine competitions, held in London in June 2014, Cuvée Misawa – Akeno Koshu 2013 won the gold medal along with the regional trophy, the top honor in the Asian region.

Gold medal winners included 158 brands out of 15,007 participating brands.

The leading figure in this remarkable achievement is Misawa Ayana, one of the world’s few female winemakers.

In 2010, Koshu, the variety of grape used for Cuvée Misawa – Akeno Koshu 2013, was listed in the OIV (International Organization of Vine and Wine) as the first variety of Japanese origin, which created an opportunity for recognition as an international variety.

Misawa, at the age of just 36, serves as a board director and cultivation and brewing director of Grace Wine in Akeno-mura, Hokuto-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture. I was welcomed by her wearing overall work clothes.

“Koshu is definitely a resource in this region. In the world of wine making, you can be in a very advantageous position if you have a local variety,” said Misawa.

Misawa Ayana surveys a row of grapevines at Grace Winery.

Misawa has not only been engaged as a winemaker, but also flew around the world to promote the brands such as Koshu and Yamanashi. Her motivating force is her love for her hometown where she was born and raised.

Grace Wine, Misawa’s home, is a winery founded in 1923. Her grandfather and father were also winemakers.

She started making sincere efforts to become a winemaker in her college days and studied Wine Sciences at the University of Bordeaux. In addition to her qualifications as winemaker and taster, she acquired BTS, the technician certificate as a senior expert in cultivation and brewing at a vocational school in Bourgogne. She also studied at the graduate school of Stellenbosch University in South Africa for one month.

After returning home, Misawa started trying to grow Koshu using a hedging style in cooperation with Misawa Shigekazu, her father and president of the company. Through a process of trial and error she succeeded in producing grapes with a sugar content of at least 20 degrees Brix, which had been considered difficult in the case of Koshu.

To extend her winemaking experience, Misawa also traveled between her hometown in Yamanashi and cities in the southern hemisphere every six months. Over six years, she experienced winemaking twice a year. Her enthusiasm for winemaking is really amazing.

Through her training and travels abroad, Misawa learned not only winemaking techniques but also how to disseminate things and experiences from a rural area to the world, including the need for marketing and promotion.

In 2012, Misawa successfully cultivated grapes with a sugar content of at least 20 degrees Brix. The secret was moisture control, using a method called the ridge system. In 2013, she finally received the aforementioned award.

Partly for such reasons, Japanese wine has attracted attention worldwide in recent years.

In 2013, Yamanashi became the first wine that was designated as a G.I. (Geographical Indication) by notification of the National Tax Agency. This means that producers can now export wine with a label showing the Geographical Indication of Yamanashi, instead of Japan.

The narrower the indication of the production area, the higher the brand value of the wine. The permission to use the Geographical Indication of Yamanashi has enhanced the wine industry in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Barrels of premium Koshu wine in the Grace Winery cellars

According to Misawa, “When considering regional revitalization, I think that the vertical flow is more important than the horizontal flow. I place great value on what I have taken over from my grandfather, father and mother. Through such vertical flow, my pride for Yamanashi has been emboldened and strengthened, which is a precious thing.”

Misawa intends to further subdivide Yamanashi to raise the brand value in the future.

“If a farmer in my neighborhood goes abroad and finds a bottle of Koshu wine with a label showing Kayagatake as a production area, he would feel very proud. If he finds such wine served at a Raffles Hotel, he would definitely feel proud. Regional revitalization should be done in this way, I think,” Misawa said.

Disseminating Koshu from Yamanashi to the world. Misawa’s challenge is highly alluring when thinking about not only women’s perspectives but also globalization, branding and marketing strategies of local industries.

KATAYAMA Osamu is an economics journalist and representative of K-Office. He has published extensively, including Sumato kakumei de seicho suru Nihon keizai (Growing the Japanese Economy with the Smart Revolution), and Naze Za Puremiamu Morutsu ha uretsuzukeru noka? (Why does The Premium Malt’s beer sell so well?). Recent publications include Samsun kuraishisu (The Samsung Crisis).


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