Japan’s wineries adapting to tighter grape geographic-origin rules


Some wineries are moving to change their product names containing geographical terms ahead of a tightening of place-of-origin rules aimed at preventing consumer misunderstanding.

Among them is Takeda Winery in Kaminoyama, Yamagata Prefecture. Its mainstay products include the Zao Star series. The brand name derives from the Zao mountain range, known for popular ski resorts and the tourist-attracting scenery of frozen snow-covered trees.

The winery will change the names of wines within that brand so they include Takeda Winery Rouge, starting with products made with grapes harvested in 2017.

The move is intended to meet a requirement that will be introduced Oct. 30 by the National Tax Agency stipulating that wine products with geographical names must be accurate for at least 85 percent of the grapes grown locally.

In the Zao Star series, white and rose wines meet the new requirement, but red wines do not, as they use not only locally grown grapes but also grapes from Tendo, another city in Yamagata but somewhat distant from Zao.

Although Takeda Winery had the option of changing grape suppliers, it chose to maintain its contract with its current partner farmers in view of some 100 years of relations. It therefore decided to change the product indications instead of seeking new suppliers.

“The rule change will enable consumers to tell the places of origin clearly,” Takeda Winery President Noriko Kishidaira, 51, said. “We accept the revised rule positively, seeing it as a good opportunity,” she said.

At the same time, some wineries are trying to keep changes of product indications to a minimum.

Asahimachi Wine in the town of Asahi in Yamagata sells popular wine products carrying its corporate name.

As white wine products on its lineup use grapes from a different area of the prefecture, the winery last September placed a kanji character meaning “limited liability company” just ahead of the product name of Asahimachi Wine on the bottle labels.

By having the labels suggest that they show the name of the company, not the product names, the winery obtained the tax agency’s green light for the indication.

“We’ve experienced a sales decline following a product name change,” said Hidetoshi Konoe, 56, a plant manager at the winery. “That’s why we tried as much as possible not to change the appearance of the labels.”

Meanwhile, officials of the Yamanashi Prefecture Wine Manufacturers’ Association said the rule change is expected to have only a limited impact on roughly 80 wineries in the prefecture, whose products are widely known as Koshu wine.

This is because Koshu is the name of a wine grape variety whose use in product names is authorized and its indication is allowed for wines made with the grape variety grown not only in the city of Koshu but also other areas in the prefecture, officials of the association said.

As product indications carrying the names of the places where wineries are located will also be allowed, Hokkaido Wine in Otaru, Hokkaido, has already changed the names of its Otaru Niagara wines that mainly use grapes grown outside the city but are made in the city to Otaru Jozo Niagara. Otaru Jozo means “brewed in Otaru.”

“Overseas, wine products are sold under specific geographical names, such as Bordeaux and Bourgogne,” said Minoru Kubono, 64, an official of the Japan Wineries Association. “Toughening the labeling regulations will help protect wine-producing regions.”