Photo/IllutrationWorkers pick grapes in a Banjo Jozo field. (Provided by Banjo Jozo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A sake brewer is making wine from a grape it grows in France as part of an effort to promote Japan’s traditional beverage across the globe.

Banjo Jozo, a brewery in Nagoya’s Midori Ward that is famous for its Kamoshibito Kuheiji “junmai daiginjo” high-quality sake, has started producing wine in Burgundy, a noted wine-producing area in France, on a full-scale basis.

The Japanese brewer also released a sake product made from rice grown in the European country in the summer.

“I want to further improve sake by introducing wine-brewing techniques,” said Kuheiji Kuno, 52, Banjo Jozo’s 15th-generation president.

Banjo Jozo began expanding its business overseas in earnest in 2006.

Kuno visited a renowned restaurant in Paris by himself to sell Kamoshibito Kuheiji, the brewery’s main product. Currently, Banjo Jozo’s beverages are sold to more than 500 eateries and other stores in France, Canada, Singapore and elsewhere.

“I thought if our products are recognized in France, the homeland of wine, they would capture consumer attention in Japan as well,” Kuno said.

Although both wine and sake are brewed drinks, they are significantly different from each other in one point: wine brewers typically cultivate grapes to use them as an ingredient by themselves, while sake makers purchase rice from farmers.

“(I repeatedly asked myself) whether it is acceptable for me to call myself a sake brewer, although I do not know anything about rice paddies,” Kuno said.

Acting on the idea, Kuno started growing the Yamada Nishiki species of rice in Hyogo Prefecture in 2010. Kuno sent younger brewery workers to the local region to produce high-quality rice.

In 2013, Banjo Jozo began sending its employees to France for a long-term training program, as Kuno believed doing so would “mark the first step toward causing a ‘chemical reaction’ between sake (and wine).”

Banjo Jozo also acquired a brewery and a 2.5-hectare grape field in Morey-Saint-Denis in Burgundy in 2015. The Japanese sake maker brewed wine from purchased grapes in the following year on a trial basis.

While grape species known as Pinot Noir and Aligote are grown there, Banjo Jozo harvested its first grapes from the field in September this year, allowing the brewer to make wine full scale.

Wine brewed from the self-raised grapes is expected to be shipped in 18 months.

While involved in wine production, Banjo Jozo also grows rice in Camargue in Provence in southern France, which is a noted rice-producing area.

Working with a local test facility, Banjo Jozo selected the Manobi species endemic to France as the best rice for Japanese sake. It began cultivating the rice on a trial basis in 2014.

In autumn last year, Banjo Jozo harvested 2 tons of rice there and sent it to Japan for the first time. Kuno and others brewed sake from the French-made rice and released 3,000 bottles of rice wine in summer this year.

The sake brewed from the rice exposed to strong sunlight boasts a unique flavor like flowers or fruit, according to Banjo Jozo officials.

As 4 tons of the rice was harvested this year and is to be sent to Kuno in early 2018, sake brewing is expected to start shortly to produce rice wine for the next season.

“I want to experience what no one has experienced and pass on the experiences to the next generation,” said Kuno. “I hope to raise the global status of sake to the same level as wine.”