Thursday, December 11, 2008

What does the future hold for Karuizawa?

Karuizawa distillery in winter

I am getting a definite feeling from contacts with people inside Kirin, the parent company, that some sort of decision about the distillery`s future status may be being made.

That is nothing more than a guess. Nobody has told me so in explicit terms and I have no idea what options they are considering, if they are, but what I do know is that Kirin people are not keen to talk about the future of the distillery at present. In contrast, they are very happy to talk about the company`s other distillery, Fuji-Gotemba.

The background to this is that Kirin has never really had a strong presence in the whisky business. It is much better known as the leading beer maker in Japan. The Fuji-Gotemba distillery was set up by Kirin itself in 1973 but the Karuizawa distillery came with the acquisition of Mercian in 2006/7. The Mercian takeover seems to have been motivated to a large extent by Mercian`s very strong wine making and marketing arm. Kirin`s latest annual report emphasises its increased stake in Japan`s buoyant wine market but is light on discussion of its greater exposure to whisky, which is a declining market segment (at least in terms of sales of cheap, mass market brands) .

Again I must emphasise that I am spinning these questions out of very little real information, but several possibilities are spinning around in my overworked imagination. A sale? A mothballing or quasi-mothballing? A closure? Perhaps, though it seems less likely, there is nothing negative in the internal discussions. They could just be considering a change of location? An increased commitment to Karuizawa and greater investment there? A change of use or changed product line? A joint venture? The one thing I hope is not on the cards is a closure. Karuizawa is an internationally respected distillery (much better known than Fuji-Gotemba, I think). If anyone can help clear up these questions of mine, please drop me a line.
The image is taken from the Karuizawa website and is not my copyright.

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