In the early eighth century, the story goes, a Buddhist monk named Gyoki had a dream while visiting the Koshu Valley in Japan. In the dream, Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Medicine, came to Gyoki holding a cluster of grapes in one hand and a bottle of medicine in the other. Gyoki carved a statue of the fruit-bearing deity, built the Daizenji temple in his honor, and began cultivating local koshu grapes for medical purposes. Today, the winery at the heart of Koshu’s “Grape Temple” produces 9,000 bottles of wine annually.
Soon after Gyoki began touting the fruit’s medicinal benefits and promulgating cultivation techniques, grapes blanketed the Koshu Valley. Farmers began collecting and fermenting damaged grapes, made palatable with heavy amounts of sugar, to make koshu wine. The practice persisted throughout the valley, but the wine’s unique flavor (considered light, crisp, and citrusy by some, overly tart and sweet by others) remained undiscovered outside of Japan for centuries. In 1953, the Grape Temple organized several farmers to create a unique kind of winery, mass-producing koshu wine within the temple complex.
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