Koshu, Yamanashi: Grapes and Wine Town
Yamanashi prefecture is located just west of Tokyo and is known for its fruits
Koshu is a small city of about 32,000 and is like the Napa Valley of Japan
Since moving to Japan, I’ve realized that the country has some of the most delicious fruits. The flavor gap between the average fruit back home in the US versus one in Japan can be considerable at times, almost to the point that I feel I was deprived.
One of the juiciest fruits that I’ve had in Japan is grapes, and perhaps the most well known area for grapes is Koshu in Yamanashi prefecture.
Koshu is to the west of Tokyo, and is almost fully blanketed with vineyards from mountain to mountain. Unlike other grape and wine areas like Napa, Koshu is quite hilly and full of smaller-sized vineyards. A bunch of them open roadside stands selling their homegrown grapes while a few others make wine.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Shinjuku station in Tokyo, it’s about a 1.5 hour ride on the JR Chuo limited express, Azusa and Kaiji trains. The main stop in the area is Enzan station [MAP], but the closest station to where I’ve gone here is Katsunumabudokyo Station [MAP], along just before it.
You can get more information and make reservations here on the JR East website. It’s also eligible for JR Rail Pass holders.
August-September is the best time to visit as it’s peak grape season.
Japanese fruits on average can be slightly expensive, and in mid to high-end department stores, grapes from this area can sell for $60-100 USD per bunch.
Part of the reason why costs are higher is because they produce smaller quantities due to intensive pruning, smaller areas of land and because a lot of care goes into growing, shipping and packaging in general. If you notice in the photos above, each bunch of grapes is even semi-wrapped in protective covering.
During grape season in early September, I was able to visit a family-run vineyard and get some of the juiciest grapes at the source.
A little more than a roadside stand, Farm Kunugi [J] had its own parking lot and a small area of tables and chairs under their vines for people to sit and eat what they just bought.
The vineyard began in 1957 and started with 4 types of grapes - Delaware, Kyoho, Fujibutsu and Pione. They’ve since expanded their selection and were selling several of them when I visited.
All of the grapes here are delicious, but I tend to favor the darker purple ones like the Fujiminori and Kyoho. Each grape is huge and packed with intense flavor.
The family was very friendly and they also ship their grapes around the country. Their harvest period is between June and September - going here for fresh grapes definitely beat dealing with Tokyo’s heat and humidity. And they have cute dogs guarding their grapes.
After getting full of grapes, I visited the nearby Ikeda Winery [J], a family-owned winery that’s been in operation since 1995, and only a short drive away from Farm Kunugi.
They don’t have a winery or vineyard tour as it’s more of a small shop. The great thing about them though is that they offer an extensive wine tasting of about 13 different wines for 500 yen (about $5 USD). Here, you can taste a range of whites, rosé and a couple of reds.
If you buy a bottle, many of which are reasonably priced between $15-40 USD, your money is refunded. It’s a good deal, especially if you like white wine. I’m more of a red guy, but their white wines were quite good - clean, light and crisp.
And they have a cute dog as well. Update: She has since passed on as of August 2019.
Curry at Delhi Bay was recommended to us, so we decided to try it out. It’s a really local, hole-in-the-wall type of spot. They’re spicier level curries are quite good, and have a few types to choose from that are either Indian or European inspired. Each is served with white rice and pickles.