There are some pretty damn good beers, and apparently the whiskeys are world class. There is also no lack of demand for wine in Japan, so I’d been wondering about this one for a while when I finally found an answer in Friday’s International Herald Tribune:
To summarize, the weather conditions means that the vinifera grapes that are common in most great wine growing nations end up rotting in Japan. Most vineyards therefore use a local variant called koshu which is more resistant to the summer and autumn rains. Unfortunately, this grape is quite bitter, leading to most wine growers to add lots of sugar.