It’s like hanami in the vineyards. That’s the best way to describe next month’s Harvest Festival at Coco Farm and Winery in Tochigi Prefecture. For ¥2,000, you get a commemorative glass, a bottle of wine and a corkscrew (or a bottle of juice and a stopper).
“People end up making friends here very easily,” says resident wine consultant Bruce Gutlove. “The way things are worked, everyone is walking around with a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and a glass. So basically everyone is a walking, self-contained party.”
This is Coco Winery’s 26th annual festival to date. In the first few years, the event was a small affair: a few folding chairs and a crowd of about 800. The only take-home was free boiled potatoes. Now, upwards of 10,000 people a day make the trip to Ashikaga for the food, fun—and, of course, wine.
You may not have heard of Coco, but they’re a bright spot in a country that’s got a well-earned reputation for lousy plonk. And it’s not just their wine that is being talked about—the workers at Coco are an unusual bunch. Nearly all have a mental disability of some sort, but are able to tend the vineyard and make a fantastic wine that helps sustain their community.
This aspect attracted Gutlove to the winery, and no doubt the workers will let off steam and participate in the festivities.
“This isn’t a bucolic autumn day in the vineyards,” he cautions. But since mid-November will be fall’s last hurrah, it’s a good opportunity to get out and have fun before winter forces us all under the kotatsu.
Nov 14-15, 10:30am-3:30pm, ¥2,000. Coco Farm and Winery, 611 Tajima-cho, Ashikaga-shi, Tochigi Prefecture. www.cocowine.com
By train: Take the Tobu Isesaki line from Asakusa (1 hour 10 min, ¥1,940) or Kita-Senju (1 hour, ¥1,860) to Ashikaga-shi. A shuttle bus will run from the station (¥300 one-way, last bus 4:30pm).
By bus: Direct buses will be running from Tokyo and Saitama to Coco Winery during the festival, departing at 8 and 9am from Shinjuku-Nishiguchi and Omiya-Nishiguchi stations (¥5,000 round-trip). Call 0284-70-0118 to make a reservation.