Harvest Festival
By: Lisa Gay | Oct 22, 2009 | No Comments | 2,102 views
Photos by Lisa Gay

Photos by Lisa Gay

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.

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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.

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