Yamanashi aims to become center for wine-based tourism

JIJI

In Yamanashi Prefecture, the top producer of wine made only from grapes grown in Japan, three cities have come together to create a plan for a wine resort.

The cities of Koshu, Fuefuki and Yamanashi, which together host some 60 wineries, are collaborating to promote the area as a resort where tourists can stay at ryokan Japanese-style inns with onsen hot springs while exploring wineries and other local attractions.

According to research by the prefecture the three neighboring cities, which make up one of Japan’s biggest wine-producing regions, last year were visited by approximately 5.5 million tourists.

Of them, 70 percent only came on single-day trips. The prefecture views this as a possible opening for the cities to increase the number of overnight visitors by enticing people to stay longer.

Wineries took the first step in efforts to coax visitors to stay longer.

Koshu-based Marufuji Winery Co., which is celebrating its 127th year in business, renovated a kominka old folk house and opened it as a guesthouse in March.

The guesthouse offers a serene atmosphere where people can savor the taste of wines while learning about their background.

“I’d planned this for a long time,” said Haruo Omura, chief executive officer of the winery. “I hope visitors will appreciate the charm of the old winery.”

High-quality services in hotels and ryokan are seen as essential for persuading customers to stay overnight.

Since last year, the prefecture has been leading an initiative to provide training programs for ryokan employees in the three cities to study the basics of wine and regional tourism.

Some of those who completed the training have found work as hotel concierges, providing services such as advice on which wine goes with which dish.

Word of mouth is another key to attracting tourists.

Six financial institutions in the prefecture, including Yamanashi Chuo Bank, based in Kofu, have stepped up to help spread the region’s vision of becoming a center for wine resorts.

The financial institutions have been holding study sessions for employees, who total 3,500, aiming to promote the prefecture’s wines to a diversifying range of customers.

“I hope they can acquire knowledge to popularize Yamanashi’s wines among customers and spread the word,” Yamanashi Chuo Bank President Nakaba Shindo said.

Michihiro Nakada, an official in the prefectural government’s tourism department, has been publicizing the prefecture’s wines for 25 years.

“As long as the wines sell, the beautiful landscape of the vineyard can be protected, which in turn will attract more visitors, creating a virtuous cycle,” he said, suggesting that some of the profits from wine sales should be plowed back into care for the wineries’ environment.

According to Nakada, if a tourist who buys a ¥2,000 bottle of wine stays for the night instead of making a day trip, an estimated ¥27,000 will be spent, including money for everything from accommodation to souvenirs.

One pressing problem, however, is securing quality wine grapes.

Backed by the washoku Japanese cuisine boom, the popularity of Japanese wine has soared in recent years, and people involved in the industry highlight a supply shortfall of the key ingredient.

Increasing production is especially important for Koshu grapes, used to make white wine, but it is difficult to boost production due to the shortage of farmers.

Nakada has suggested that wineries take the initiative. “Wineries should do everything themselves, from cultivating their own wine grapes to making wine.”