While few connoisseurs would rate Japan one of the world's great
wine-producing countries, there is a thriving domestic wine industry, with
several dozen major vineyards nestled in the mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture,
just north of Mount Fuji. And a good place to try out the local product, and maybe
discover a few favorites, is the wine-tasting cave at Budo-no-oka Center, right in the
heart of Japanese wine country.
Budo-no-oka Center ("Grape-hill Center") was established by a group of local
wineries so they could showcase their wares in one central location. Besides the
underground tasting area there's also a wine restaurant, an outdoor barbecue area, an observation
deck (with a great panoramic view of the surrounding mountains), a wedding chapel
and a hotel. But the main draw is the tasting cave, where Y1,100 gets you a tasting
cup and as much wine as you care to sample. You can try any of more than 150
different brands, and of course they're all available for purchase in case you find a special
bottle that you want to bring home.
The cave is pleasantly decorated in a vineyard motif, organized around
groups of open wine bottles sitting on barrels. It's all self-service, so you can
actually try all 150 types if you're so inclined; the day I was there the group over at
the next barrel looked like they were working on it.
Visitors here cover a wide range: serious-looking middle-aged types in tweed jackets sipping solemnly, enthusiastic students and young couples, and a gregarious group of local English teachers who seemed to be trying hard to get their money's worth. If you want a short break from imbibing you can wander over to the oddly curated museum display area, where you can see ancient wine-making tools that look more like medieval instruments of torture, collections of unusual wine glasses, and a gallery of old Japanese movie photos.
Although the overall quality isn't anywhere near the level of Australia or
California, there are a few decent, or at least drinkable, wines to be found. (There
are some pretty bad ones too, but fortunately there are strategically placed
receptacles for dumping the rejects.) And of course it's nice being able to taste
dozens of different varieties all in one sitting, saving years of trial and error in
liquor shops or restaurants.
Upstairs from the cave is a souvenir shop selling wine
and other local specialties - fruit wines and juices, wine-flavored candies, wine
gelatin desserts, corkscrews and so on. While the wines can be hit or miss, the
excellent local grape juice is probably a good bet for a souvenir/present.
Up on the top level is a "wine restaurant" serving food that people out here
in the countryside imagine "goes with" wine - beef stew and steaks are heavily
represented. Much more interesting is the houtou, an amazing local udon noodle
dish made with chunks of carrot, pumpkin, potato, leek, and mushroom simmered in
a broth that's so rich it's almost buttery. After lunch take a stroll around the
observation deck and enjoy a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains. Or
better yet, check into the hotel for a quick nap.
Budo-no-oka Center is a short cab ride from Katsunuma Station, on the JR
Chuo Line west of Shinjuku, Tokyo. There are plenty of hot spring resorts and
hiking trails nearby, and the prefectural capital city of Kofu is just a few stops away
by local train.
Also in the general area is the Fuefukigawa Fruit Park, located a few
stations west in Yamanashi City. The main attraction here is the fascinating Fruit
Museum, where you can explore the history of fruit through the centuries, with
particular emphasis on the role of fruit in the history of Yamanashi Prefecture. This
sounds like a must-see destination for elementary school field trips, but the day I
was there the Fruit Park was actually filled with adults. (Maybe they had been
touring the local wineries earlier in the day and were suffering from impaired
Perched on a high plateau above the surrounding hills, this fruit-themed
complex is housed in several large geodesic domes as well as a few outdoor arbor
areas. Next to the Fruit Museum is the Fruit Theater - I was expecting
to see an elaborate musical production featuring giant dancing grapes and peaches,
but unfortunately there was just a small movie theater showing an educational film
about agriculture in Yamanashi. Above the theater is a large and steamy tropical
greenhouse, and next door is the Fruit Plaza, where special events are staged.
There's also a library, a large gift shop, and a "fruit restaurant"; the
restaurant offered only a few fruit-flavored entrees, but they did serve "spaghetti with fruits
de mer" (assorted seafood).
5 minutes by taxi from Katsunuma station
Admission to wine cave: Y1,100
Wine cave: 11am-5pm; restaurant 11am-8pm (closes 7:30pm Nov.-Apr.); barbecue 11am-5pm.
Fuefukigawa Fruit Park
15 minutes by taxi or bus from Yamanashi station (buses run infrequently)
Yamanashi and Katsunuma are 10 and 15 minutes, respectively, from Kofu, which
is 90 minutes by express train from Shinjuku. Kofu is also easily accessible from
Copyright (c) 2008, Robb Satterwhite