Location: Enzan, Yamanashi Prefecture (famous for growing delicious fruit)
Venue: We stayed with Yasuhiro Ogihara, a grape farmer and a future vintner. His vinyard is called Kisvin, which he manages with the help several agriculturists who go by the collective name “Team Kisvin”
Duration: 3 days and 2 nights; November 25-27, 2011
Ogihara-san`s views on Japan joining the TransーPacific Partnership（TPP）:
“We can always back out later if it isn’t good for Japan. But joining a treaty later on will be very difficult…Farmers don’t deserve special treatment or protection. I can’t do my work alone. In order to do my work, I need the road-builder, the equipment manufacturer, the clothes-maker, the car maker, the producers of gas for my stove and electricity for my lights; I need the consumer, too…’’
Important things learned on this trip: How to identify an insect infestation on a vine; Techniques for producing beautiful luxury fruit in Japan: The astronomical price of grapes in Japan (i.e. up to 10,000 yen [approx. 130 dollars] per bunch!)
Impressions of the Journey:
The 3-hour trip (including a coffee break) to Yamanashi was a piece of cake compared to some of the overnight bus trips we have endured thus far. In the morning darkness on Friday, November 25, we made our preparations and struck out for the train station. Three transfers and several naps later, Ogihara-san picked us up in Enzan in his tiny, vine-littered minivan at the station. After a brief stop at the house to greet his lively cat and dog and to change into our work clothes, we headed to the fields.
Impressions of Farm Life in Yamanashi:
Most of Ogihara-san`s thirty-plus varieties of table and wine grapes are grown in canopies to take advantage of Yamanashi`s sun and wind, and to avoid moisture collecting in shady areas near the ground. Our first project was to spend the morning dismantling rows of trellises in a field of young pinot noir vines where Ogihara-san plans to install a canopy system for next year. In the afternoons, we relocated to a field of table grapes, where we climbed to the peaks of the greenhouses to gather the vinyl covers along the ridgepoles and securely cover them with Tyvek fabric, protecting the vinyl from winter UV rays.
The work was physically demanding and goal-oriented, a satisfying combination – especially so because the work was interspersed with opportunities to eat the few frost-sweetened grapes still clinging to the vines. Ogihara-san`s detailed explanation of each type of grape, of the various vines` qualities and susceptibilities, revealed a deep and inspiring engagement with his work and with the fields. We learned how to estimate the age of a vine and how to identify mold and insect-related illnesses. In order to preserve the so-prefect-they-almost-look-fake look of the grapes that get sold to consumers in Japan, the vine connected to the top of each bunch of grapes had been painstakingly wrapped with an “umbrella”, a protective wax paper cover.
One highlight of the trip was sampling a Claret made from Ogihara-san`s grapes. Dry and intensely fruity, it was a superb complement to Ogihara-san`s genius cooking. Because Ogihara-san will not have a license to produce wines at Kisvin until next year, he has until now produced small batches from his grapes in conjunction with a licensed vintner. We are looking forward to tasting Kisvin`s first batches of independently produced wines in the coming years!
Ogihara-san does not subscribe to the idea of organic farming. A scientist by training, he asserted that the definition of organic agriculture is dubious, allowing for the use of highly toxic chemicals that do not decompose, unlike many commercial pesticides. He considers commercial agriculture to be safer and more productive, and views the organic movement as an effort to manipulate markets and consumers.
We enjoyed hearing Ogihara-san`s perspective on agriculture in Japan over a delicious seafood pasta he made for us on the second night. Ogihara-san refuses to see agriculture as an isolated industry that needs special treatment, and believes that despite strong opposition from the agriculture sector, Japan’s leaders should seize the opportunity to engage in international trade negotiations related to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) early on, so that Japan can help define the agreement.
Yamanashi is the grape capital of Japan, and it boasts its own native table grape. About fifteen years ago, vintners in Yamanashi discovered that white wine made from the region`s koshu grape was pretty good, and after years of experimental tweaking, Yamanashi emerged as Japan`s wine production center and has also made its mark in the international wine community. The region now produces all sorts of wine, but owes its burgeoning fame to the humble grape that made this growth possible, the koshu— 甲州