Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Harvest Festival at Coco Farm & Winery

One of my reasons for staying in Ashikaga a second year was that I wanted to more completely experience life here. I am continually impressed by the awesome things that I managed to miss the first year around. The Coco Farm & Winery(English website) Harvest Festival was one of those things.

Entry to the winery cost about 20 dollars and came with a bottle of wine and other valuable gifts.

The festival wasn't anything complicated. A very large amount of people laid out tarps on the side of a big hill, underneath the grape vines intertwined with wires above. We sat and enjoyed wine, a bit of food, live music, and each other's company. It was a massive celebration of nothing in particular. It was a much needed chance for the people of Ashikaga(and people from miles around) to relax and enjoy themselves.

I bumped into a few teachers from my school at the fest and spent a bit of time chatting with them. I mistakenly had this picture of us taken next to the most despondent pile of walking grapes you will ever, ever see.
I was like, "hey, why so blue?" hehe. Ok, sorry. What I really said was "hey, buddy, put a cork in it!". Seriously, though, "nobody likes a whiner!"

So, Ashikaga has a winery. I was a bit surprised, myself. I always imagined grapes being grown in places with sun, and warmth. As I write this in the neon-red glow of an electric heater, there isn't much of either. The winery has a great story that I think makes the wine much more special. The vast majority of those who tend the grapes and make the wine are mentally disabled. The reason for founding the winery was to give them the opportunity to live a full life.

I found an interesting Wall Street Journal article that gives a bit of background on Bruce Gutlove, the American oenologist who transformed the winery (article here). There is a bit of an explanation of why the vines are spread out up in the air instead of in big bushes like I usually see. My favorite quote from the article? "There's not a big difference between being a foreigner in Japan and being mentally disabled". Well said.


  1. I remember a blog post from some other blog about this festival last year. I seem to remember that it was cold and cloudy that day also.

    20 bucks entry fee that also includes a bottle of wine seems like a good deal.

  2. Thats funny that you've read about the festival before. Its a pretty big deal. You should definitely try it out next time you are in the area. Its the same time every year I believe.