Budo-no-oka Center
Yamanashi-ken: Attraction
Budo-no-oka Center: Yamanashi-ken
Yamanashi-ken / Attraction
Open 11am-5pm daily.
Admission to wine cave: Y1,100
Average visit time: 1-2 hours

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 we were 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.

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.

Koshu, Yamanashi-ken, Katsunumacho Hishiyama 5093.
JR Katsunuma, approx. 2 hours from Shinjuku station
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