Imports of Beaujolais Nouveau are climbing toward a record high this year thanks to aggressive marketing campaigns by importers.

The wine, produced in France’s Beaujolais region, near Lyons, was officially released for consumption Thursday.

Japan is the leading market for the young wine, which is known for its drinkability and fruity flavors. About 7.2 million 750-ml bottles are being shipped this year, which will eclipse the previous record of 5.5 million bottles set last year.

Although Beaujolais Nouveau recently has become popular in Japan, which is the first major market to taste it each year, it is beginning to fall out of favor in Europe.

Competition among Japanese brewing companies hawking the wine is expected to be stiff. Orders from major retailers came in earlier than usual, and many breweries plan to hire more sales staff.

According to industry estimates, Asahi Breweries Ltd. rose to third in the Beaujolais Nouveau market this year from seventh last year after the company increased imports of the wine by 3.2-fold to a record of 852,000 bottles.

Asahi Breweries, which acquired the alcoholic beverage operations of fermented chemical manufacturer Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co. in September, will market the wine with 1,300 personnel, up 20 percent from last year, by bringing in staff from Kyowa Hakko.

“We expect favorable sales of Beaujolais Nouveau to continue this year even though there are no special themes coming such as ‘Millennium Wine’ and ’21st Century Wine’, because red wine has been getting more popular since the start of the red wine boom in 1997,” Asahi Breweries spokesman Masao Fujimori said.

Kirin Brewery Co. started receiving orders July 9 and imported 504,000 bottles, up 40 percent from the previous year.

Suntory Ltd., the market leader with a share of more than 30 percent, increased imports by 20 percent to 2.22 million bottles. It is also slated to sell a limited edition of Beaujolais Nouveau jointly developed with France’s best-known producer, Les Vins Georges Duboeuf.

“The popularity of the wine is growing because Japanese people tend to like seasonal products and now people can buy the wine at more accessible places like convenience stores and supermarkets,” said Suntory spokeswoman Yukari Miyazaki.

“Although the amount of wine consumed per person has not increased, more people have started drinking wine,” she added.

Department store Mitsukoshi Ltd. started delivering the wine on the day of its release Thursday at its seven department stores in Tokyo.

“The number of orders for Beaujolais Nouveau at Mitsukoshi outlets nationwide jumped 33.5 percent from a year earlier,” Mitsukoshi spokesman Ichiro Fujii said. “Our customers tend to be in a higher age group, but customers for the wine span a wide range of ages.”

“Favorable sales for Beaujolais Nouveau are expected to continue, as the wine is gaining recognition among Japanese people and domestic brewing firms are becoming more eager to sell it,” Fujii said.

The brewing companies are working hard to promote Beaujolais Nouveau this year, but they also seem rather ambivalent about this year’s batch.

“There are no particular themes for Beaujolais Nouveau like last year,” an industry official said. “Even if there are many imports, it is hard to tell if customers will be eager to purchase them.”

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