In 1877, the Dainihon Yamanashi Wine Company, the forerunner of Mercian, was founded, raising the curtain on the history of Japanese wine.
Iwaimura (now Katsunuma town, Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture), with its gravel soil with excellent drainage and a climate with cool mornings and evenings, is ideal for cultivating grapes, and has been one of Japan’s most active winemaking regions since the Meiji period (1868-1912).
The originators of the Dainihon Yamanashi Wine Company, Japan’s first private winemaker, were also local business owners and central figures in the village government, and the company’s capital at the time of its founding was about 14,000 yen – several hundreds of million yen in today’s money.
The company first turned its attention to training skilled individuals who could guide others in winemaking techniques and methods. Singled out for their potential were Masanari Takano (1852-1923), one of the company’s shareholders, and Sukejiro Tsuchiya (later Ryuken, 1858-1940), the eldest son of one of the founders, Katsuemon Tsuchiya. These two talented young men were dispatched from their village to France, the home of winemaking, where they learned the ins and outs of fermentation techniques and equipment as well as varieties of grapes, all with the goal of producing quality wine by Japanese hands. Despite being total novices at winemaking and not speaking a word of French, the two young villagers dove right into their research, training in both practical and theoretical skills including pruning, cutting, grafting, and the differences between table grapes and wine grapes. And to make sure their findings were properly conveyed to the Japanese, they made elaborate sketches and took part in harvesting of grapes and winemaking, going without sleep or rest to master the winemaking process.Their return to their village marked the official launch of winemaking in Japan. However, awaiting them were major challenges: they could not set up sales channels; the species of seedlings they brought back from Europe were infested with diseases and pests and would not grow in Japanese soil; and the wines they did manage to produce were inconsistent in quality. From 1883 they drastically cut back their wine production volume, and the following year were forced to stop making wine altogether. Then in 1886, the Dainihon Yamanashi Wine Company was finally dissolved.
© 2007 Kirin Holdings Company, Limited.