On June 30, wines of Nagano, Yamagata and Osaka received a GI (Geographical Indication) status. In addition to “Yamanashi” in 2013 and “Hokkaido” in 2018, Japan now has five GIs for wines.
These wines should be made from grapes which are cultivated within the designated area and should be vinified in that area in accordance with the product specification.
This specification is written based on the consensus of all the producers within the area. The product specification stipulates the grape varieties allowed, total alcoholic level, total sulfurous acid level, volatile acid level, total acid level, the requirements for chaptalisation, the requirements for the addition or removal of the acid, and others. It also clarifies the characteristics of the products, including the natural and human factors which attribute to those characteristics.
The Nagano prefecture is the second largest producing region of Japanese wine* after Yamanashi. Located in the center of Honshu and surrounded by high mountains with altitudes over 2,000 m and 3,000 m, “Many grape growing regions are at a high altitude over 500 m, and the climate there is generally cool with a great temperature difference between day and night.
According to the classification presented by Amerine & Winkler (University of California, Davis), grape growing regions in Nagano Prefecture are roughly classified into Region 1 through Region 3 and are suitable for growing European grape varieties, which grow in a relatively cool climate. This cool climate condition with a great temperature difference between day and night gives white wine grapes moderate organic acid and a high sugar content, and gives red wine grapes a high anthocyanin content and high quality. The grape production volume of the prefecture is one of the largest in Japan. The growing conditions in the prefecture are also ideal for sake. Nagano received a Geographical Indication status for both its wines and sakes on June 30. With a GI status,, the prefecture plans to promote wines and sake of Nagano further inside and outside Japan.
Within the Nagano GI designation, it sets two categories: GI Nagano and GI Nagano Premium, which has much stricter standards than GI Nagano.
The Nagano prefecture has operated its own Geographical Indication system, called “Nagano Appellation Control (NAC) ” since 2002 in order to advertise the high level of quality of Nagano products. Not only wines but also sake, rice, shochu, cider and others are the target of NAC. Only the products which passed an organoleptic assessment every year can carry the logo of NAC. As a transitional measure, the wines which passed the NAC’s assessment this year (from April 2021 to March 2022) can carry the logo of both NAC and GI Nagano Premium, or whichever they select. This is because the standard of GI Nagano Premium and that for wines of NAC is almost identical. From April 2022, NAC’s wines will be migrated to the GI system of Nagano.
Yamagata prefecture is the fourth largest producing region of Japanese wines, following Yamanashi, Nagano and Hokkaido. Yamagata is located in the northern part of Honshu. It faces the Sea of Japan on the west and is surrounded on three sides by the mountains. Yamagata is one of the famous rice-producing areas of Japan. Rice fields spread over plains in the basins, and grapes are grown mainly in areas not suitable for rice fields. It means that grapes are grown on slopes with a good drainage, which are suitable for grape growing. Also, this area enjoys favorable climate conditions. According to its product specification, “the weather is fine on many days during the grape growing season from April to October, and the hours of daylight during that period amount to about 1,100 hours with good exposure to sunlight. On the other hand, due to the high latitude, it has a cool climate with the average monthly temperature of about 25℃ during the grape harvest season even in the hottest month, and a large temperature difference between day and night facilitates the accumulation of organic acid.”
Although Yamagata has such ideal conditions for producing high quality grapes, almost one-third of their grapes are transferred to wineries which are located outside the prefecture and are vinified there. This ratio of vinification outside the prefecture is much higher than that of Yamanashi, Nagano or Hokkaido. This is one of the reasons why Yamagata wanted a GI status. By getting a GI, Yamagata intends to raise the ratio of vinification within the prefecture. For your reference, Yamagata is also known for producing high-quality sake with a silky and clear texture. Sake of Yamagata already received a GI status in 2016.
Osaka has a long history of producing table grapes because it has mass-consumption areas nearby, such as Osaka, Kyoto ad Kobe.
The main region of grape growing is located at the foot of the mountains. According to its wine region description, “a gentle slope from the mountains to the Osaka Plain through foothills does not block sunlight, ensuring sufficient hours of daylight. With respect to the nature of the soil, the base layer comprises granite unique to the Median Tectonic Line, and this base layer and sandy loam on the surface of the slope offer good drainage and ventilation.”
Osaka wines are made mainly from Delaware, a table grape variety, and they are developing the cultivation of wine grape varieties by utilizing their experience in the growing of table grapes. The volume of wine production in Osaka is still limited compared with that of other prefectures. It seems that Osaka expects that a GI status will stimulate wine production in the prefecture.
For all the products which receive GI status in Japan, please refer to the list of National Tax Agency here.
*Please note that Japanese wine here means the wines made from grapes which are cultivated only in Japan.