By Manami Nishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterUSHIKU, Ibaraki — Ushiku Chateau is known as Japan’s first full-scale winery. It was founded in 1903 by Denbee Kamiya (1856-1922), a businessman in the Meiji era (1868-1912) who opened Japan’s first Western-style bar, Kamiya Bar, in Tokyo’s Asakusa area.
“Chateau” is a title given to wineries that carry out the full wine-making process, from cultivating grapes to bottling. It’s easy to feel the tradition and grandeur of Ushiku Chateau by stepping into its courtyard, dotted with beautiful brick buildings.
Denbee, dreaming of establishing a full-scale winery in Japan, had his adopted son Denzo study winemaking in Bordeaux, France, for two years. When Denzo returned, Denbee looked for a suitable place for cultivating grapes. He found that the climate in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, was similar to Bordeaux’s.
Denbee bought a vast expanse of land measuring about 120 hectares and opened the Kamiya Budo-en (Kamiya vineyard) on an about 23-hectare plot. The vineyard was successful — leading Denbee to build a winery on an adjacent plot. The wine was transported on tram cars to Ushiku Station.
The former fermentation building is open to the public as a museum. Wines were once made in the building, which has two stories above ground and one story below and retains the atmosphere of a winery in the Meiji era. Written materials introducing Denbee, the chateau and the history of wine production are on display.
Visitors who enter the first floor might be surprised by the huge wooden barrels neatly lined up. Each one has a 7,000-liter capacity — equivalent to 10,000 bottles of wine.
On the second floor, visitors can see books about wine production that were brought back by Denzo from France, as well as wine-making machines such as a grape-crushing machine and a winepress used to extract juice.
Visitors can also enjoy seeing classic bottles of wines made from the Meiji era through the Taisho era (1912-26), Hachi Budoshu sweet wines, and Denki Bran — a cocktail popular at Kamiya Bar.
“We also have a restaurant where visitors can enjoy food and wine, so we hope many people enjoy learning about the histories of this chateau and the wine,” said Tetsuya Kimura, a section chief of Godo Shusei Ushiku Chateau Company, the operating firm.
■ Denbee Kamiya Memorial Museum
The winery is modeled in the style of those in Bordeaux, France, but also conveys the methods and brick structures of the Meiji era. In 2008, three buildings — the office, fermentation building and storeroom — were designated as national important cultural assets as “Chateau Kamiya former brewing facilities.” The museum was closed when the three buildings were seriously damaged in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, but it reopened in July 2016.
Address: 3-20-1, Chuo, Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture
Open: From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.