Business / Corporate

Former Japanese chip plant gets new life as cutting-edge winery

Kyodo

A former semiconductor plant in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan’s main wine-producing region, has made a fresh start as a winery, with the company’s owner driven to explore a new industry by fierce competition from Asian tech rivals.

The MGVs winery, which opened last April, uses liquefied nitrogen gas that once protected silicon wafers from oxygen and moisture to prevent grape juice from deteriorating through oxidation, to some extent keeping alive one of the factory’s former functions.

The winery’s clean room, an area free of dust and other contaminants, is used for wine fermentation, bottling and storage. The area ensures bacteria cannot infiltrate the wine and affect its aroma.

Both the nitrogen gas and clean room were essential for making semiconductors. Until three years ago, Enzan Factory Co., led by President Hiroshi Matsuzaka, 60, made precision parts for smartphones at the facility in the city of Koshu.

Price wars with Asian semiconductor makers saw Enzan Factory, established in 1953, have its sales halved from their peak. The conditions led to the decision to shutter the plant and outsource production to Vietnam to take advantage of lower labor costs there.

Around the same time the factory was closed down, Matsuzaka inherited vineyards from his parents in Katsunuma, a district in Koshu known for its wine production.

Wines sold under his MGVs brand have gained popularity for their flavor and quality, with the company receiving several dozen inquiries from potential clients, including restaurants and embassies.

“(We are) fascinated by Mr. Matsuzaka’s passion. The (wine) quality is impeccable,” said an employee at a Tokyo specialty wine seller that has decided to purchase MGVs wines.

By moving into a new business, Matsuzaka said he wants to “survive with value-added products without being influenced by prime contractors.”

“I’d like to make wine of the highest quality that can offer an elegant experience to drinkers and establish a brand that will last for generations as a world-class product,” the president said.

To promote Japanese wine overseas, Matsuzaka said efforts have to be intensified toward 2020, when Japan will be awash with Olympic visitors.

The winery, a stylish building equipped with a 7-meter-high liquid nitrogen gas tank, is open to visitors. At its cellar door, all wines are available for sampling, giving visitors a taste of what to expect if they buy.