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Regional Charm: 'Ginza Nagano' hopes fine wines, craft beers can promote local economy

Sommelier Junya Hanaoka talks about Nagano wines at a seminar held at the Ginza Nagano antenna shop in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, on Oct. 17, 2018. (Mainichi/Richi Tanaka)

TOKYO -- Nagano Prefecture is known for its quality wines, including ones served to world leaders at the Group of Seven summit in Japan in 2016. The prefectural government now hopes to promote its local beers and wines at its "Ginza Nagano" antenna shop in the capital's Chuo Ward in a bid to revitalize the regional economy and gain greater recognition for the prefecture.

A customer sits at the bar counter on the first floor of the Ginza Nagano facility in Tokyo's Chuo Ward on Oct.17, 2018. (Mainichi/Richi Tanaka)

"In Nagano, there are many small-sized wineries where staff members engage in all steps of the production process, from growing grapes to brewing," Junya Hanaoka, a 43-year-old sommelier, told some 30 participants of a wine seminar held recently at the Ginza facility. "Each winery raises different types of grapes depending on their altitude, which is one of the special features of 'Nagano Wine.'"

Nagano is blessed with natural conditions suitable for growing grapes for wines -- the 3,000-meter-high Japan Alps with substantial temperature differences between day and night, long sunshine periods and low rainfall. This environment has contributed to creating a "Nagano Wine" group with distinctive local characters.

The local wines offered at the G-7 summit in Mie Prefecture in central Japan included the dry white "Villa D'Est Vignerons Reserve Chardonnay 2014" from "Villa d'Est Gardenfarm and Winery" in the city of Tomi, in northern Nagano.

At the wine seminar, participants enjoyed tasting Nagano brands with foods made from local seasonal ingredients as they listened to the sommelier's explanation about the history and features of the wine. After the seminar, some audience members asked questions to Hanaoka, such as "Why is Nagano Wine so tasty?" "What is the difference between a dry and sweet wine?" or "How can we prepare to have our own winery in Nagano Prefecture?"

An official attends the consulting counter at the Ginza Nagano antenna shop for those thinking about moving to Nagano in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, on Oct. 17, 2018. (Mainichi/Richi Tanaka)

Nagano craft beers are also sold at a bar counter on the shop's first floor. Craft beers and Japanese sake brands, along with local food items, are also served there. "Most foreign customers prefer to drink Nagano Wine with Wasabizuke pickled Japanese spicy horseradish when we recommend the combination in English," Hanaoka added.

According to the National Tax Agency, as of March 2017 Nagano has 34 wineries, the second largest number after the central prefecture of Yamanashi. The large concentration is due in part to efforts by the prefectural government to attract new farmers in a bid to stem depopulation and utilize abandoned farmlands.

Mitsuhiro Tsubota is one such newcomer. The 70-year-old man launched the "Votano Wine" vineyard at an abandoned apple orchard in Shiojiri, in the central part of the prefecture, after moving to Nagano from Tokyo in 2002. "I settled in Shiojiri because I like its mineral-rich soil, and because of an enthusiastic invitation from a municipal official," he explained.

Ginza Nagano has a consultation counter on the fourth floor for those considering moving to Nagano. Counselors there provide information about Nagano villages, towns and cities hoping to attract prospective residents as well as on job offers.

Grape trees bear fruit at a vineyard belonging to Mitsuhiro Tsubota, the owner of the "Votano Wine" vineyard in the city of Shiojiri, Nagano Prefecture, on July 10, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Mitsuhiro Tsubota)

The shop has also begun efforts to attract more foreign visitors, inviting embassy staff members to the store, encouraging them to promote the prefecture's attractions in their countries, and providing the shop's English pamphlets to hotels near the shop.

"We would like this shop to be a site to connect Nagano Prefecture with the Tokyo metropolitan area," emphasized Munetsugu Hoshina, 50, vice-director of the shop. "We are hoping that visitors to our shop will encourage more people to go to Nagano, discover its beauty and meet with local residents," Hoshina added.

For inquiries, please call Ginza Nagano at 03-6274-6015 or access its website at https://www.ginza-nagano.jp/en (in English, Chinese and Korea).

(By Richi Tanaka, Staff Writer)

This is Part 5 of a series.

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