Take the humidity and temperature extremes of the US east coast, the similar difficulties of China’s east coast, and add a few typhoons, score the country with crags and precipitous mountains, and you get Japan—veritably a terrible place to try to grow European winegrapes. To this dire scenario one must add an extreme level of refinement when it comes to all things food and drink—Japan has more sommeliers than any other country. Add a pragmatic streak, and what do you get? Grapes that work in Japan, rather than the usual international crowd. Japan adapted the pink-skinned Koshu, originally a table grape, for its signature wines. These wines are a pale straw, quite delicate, and as such a match for the delicate nature of Japanese cuisine. Koshu has vinifera genes, and might be of central Asian origin. The Japanese also developed a hybrid, Muscat Bailey-A, which has been used for sweet wines, but is coming into greater prominence as a component in dry white blends.
Japan’s primarily vine growing areas are those that tend to have less rainfall, or are otherwise shielded from the elements, often by mountains and ridgelines. The northern island of Hokkaidō and Yamanashi Prefecture near Tokyo are the best known regions, followed by Nagano and Yamagata. On the southern island of Kyushu, the three prefectures of Ōita, Kumomoto, and Miyazaki take advantage of warmer conditions to produce Chardonnay and sweet rosés from the American-bred Campbell Early grape.