South Korea, a country of winegrowers…and surprises

A few days before going to South Korea, we launched a bottle into the sea on our Facebook page : we still did not have any contacts in this country…
One thing was certain, there is wine production in South Korea. Not to worry, then, the world of wine is (very) small and friends are always there to help and to share their network.

Mission n°1 : making appointments with winegrowers

We just landed in Seoul. Now we simply needed to wait patiently. We took this opportunity to visit the capital. Some neighbourhoods only, because the city is immense. With 25 million people, Seoul is the third most populated metropolis in the world after Tokyo and Mexico City.
The architecture is sometimes very surprising, as for example at the corner of a shopping street in Myeong-Dong’s neighborhood, where a big surprise awaited us. Placed in the middle of a square, surrounded by buildings, one more modern than the other – in an ever changing town planning – the Cathedral of Myeong-Dong majestically throned.

Corée du Sud, vin coréen, Séoul, Junete, DuraeAn, Château Mani, Grand Coteau, Ah-Reum Kim, campbell early, muscat bailey A, Myeong-Dong, gubong, cheongsoo, Kim Giduk, Chungcheongbuk-do, macération carbonique, Jean-Baptiste Ancelot, Ludovic Pollet, Wine, Wine Explorers, Exploration, Asia
What wonder to come face to face with this beautiful cathedral, built between 1892 and 1898, a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church’s presence in South Korea – where in Seoul, there are over 1.2 million Christians.
But let’s get back to our vineyards. Because by now we had the contact details of four Korean wineries ! However… there was a slight “technical problem” which we had to overcome : none of these contacts spoke any English. Oops… By chance – and especially with the help of a school friend – we were in contact with Ah-Reum Kim, a journalist for the WINE REVIEW, a Korean magazine dedicated to food and wine. A few phone calls later our appointments were made. Thank you Ah-Reum !

Body language and winery visits

Rental car in hand, let’s go to the countryside, 300 km South of Seoul, to visit DuraeAn winery.

Nearing the vineyard it seemed that the GPS was also a bit lost. We asked for directions by showing the address written in Korean on a piece of paper. A man took his car and beckoned us to follow him. He lead us to the domain. Once on site a real challenge awaited us : presenting ourselves, being understood, gathering information… and doing all this without speaking the language and only communicating with signs ! In the end we understood that DuraeAn winery produces mainly grape spirits, thanks to a double distillation alembic. Mr. Kwon, the owner of the winery, tried to explain to us with gestures that his wine is not sold and that he produces very little. We concluded that it must be made as a hobby and that the production is shared with his friends. He was very proud to show us around the cellar which housed a hundred barrels from France and Portugal. And the icing on the cake, he wanted us to autograph one of his barrels. Mandatory photo session.

Junete and Grand Coteau, two very nice wine estates

Mission completed. We left the day after for Junete, the second winery of our trip.
Ms. Ha, the owner, was all smiles. She was waiting for us. And luckily she had wifi. Why was that important you might wonder ? Because we could communicate with her via Google Translate. And it worked pretty well ! The wine estate is very small : two hectares planted exclusively with campbell early*, a red hybrid grape variety – a cross between belvidere and Muscat of Hamburg. It gives a light wine with aromas of black fruit (see tasting notes below).
We ended our tour with a delicious outdoor lunch with Ms. Ha and her husband. On the menu was : dried fish, fermented cabbage, white rice and a cold soup made with blackberries and white radish.

Corée du Sud, vin coréen, Séoul, Junete, DuraeAn, Château Mani, Grand Coteau, Ah-Reum Kim, campbell early, muscat bailey A, Myeong-Dong, gubong, cheongsoo, Kim Giduk, Chungcheongbuk-do, macération carbonique, Jean-Baptiste Ancelot, Ludovic Pollet, Wine, Wine Explorers, Exploration, Asia
Heading back northwest, close to the sea, we arrived at Grand Coteau. A vineyard of 2.5 hectares which produces rather atypical wines, like a red sparkling, an ice wine made from campbell early or a white wine 100% cheongsoo (a very aromatic local hybrid grape that tends towards notes of white fruit and citrus). Here – as in most of the vineyards we encountered during our Korean trip – the vines are covered with huge gutter-shaped plastic nets. This is because the climatic conditions in South Korea are not very favourable for viticulture due to summer rain, high humidity and poor soils, bearing some similarity to the Taiwanese climate.

Grand Coteau

Grand Coteau

Tasting of some Korean wines

Result, Korean white wines are generally very light and the red wines are starved of tannins. Some examples of wines that we tasted.
– “M5610 Elevation 2010“ from Grand Coteau
A 100% campbell early sparkling rosé wine. Nose and mouth of wild strawberry. A fresh and pretty sweet wine rather balanced but short finish. (10% alcohol). Cellar price : 39 000 KRW (about 28€).
-“Gubong Red Wine“ from DuraeAn
A red wine made from gubong (a local grape variety), non vintage, with a very light pink-orange color. A nose of red fruit and a sweet mouth. Slightly bitter finish. (12% alcohol).

-“Grape Wine Dry 2010“ from Junete
A purple-red wine 100% campbell early. Nose of Port wine with black fruit (blackberry) and strawberry finish. Very discreet mouth, a little hot. (12% alcohol). Cellar price : 15 000 KRW (about 11€).
– “Icewine 2010“ from Grand Coteau
A very surprising ice wine made from campbell early. This is possible since the temperature in some mountainous regions of South Korea can drop to -15°C in winter. Orange brick-red colour. Nose of strawberry and blueberry. Flat mouth, the fruit is gone. (10% alcohol). Cellar price : 52 000 KRW (about 38€).

Château Mani

Château Mani, the last (but not the least) winery of ​​our Korean journey – is situated right in the middle of the country, in the region of Chungcheongbuk-do**. We met with Mr Kim Giduk, the winemaker, with whom we were able to exchange a few words in English. A nice exception ! The château is a large building in a classical style and features a courtyard where the tradition is to crush the grapes barefoot into square stone basins during the harvest.

Château Mani

Château Mani

Another tradition here, which is reminiscent of the story and custom of a famous Bordeaux château : each year the estate invites a different artist to design a new label for the wines. But before tasting the wines, let’s visit the storage cellar, a mystical place lost in the mountains, 15 minutes drive from Château Mani. Thousands of bottles are sleeping on shelves along major corridors carved into the rock. I never expected to see such a place in South Korea. We didn’t stay for long because it was very cold there (only 10°C).

Back at the château we tasted two wines ; probably the two best Korean wines.
-“Château Mani Cult Wine 2009
A red blend made from muscat bailey A and Cabernet Sauvignon. A pretty nose of strawberry and blackcurrant. Lovely on the palate with crispy fruit. Some tannin which provided good structure. Surprising. Cellar price : 28 000 KRW (about 20€).
-“Château Mani NOUVEAU 2013
A second red wine, using campbell early and made like a beaujolais nouveau, with carbonic maceration. Aromas of strawberry. A fresh and light wine to drink as an aperitif. Cellar price : 21 000 KRW (about 15€).
In Korean dishes : spices, garlic and chilli…

“Beware of Korean dishes, they are ultra spicy” ! We were warned several times and I must admit that I had not taken the matter seriously. Because after our African trip earlier this year I thought my body seems accustomed to any spicy food. How naive…
The dishes arriving on the table were one more red than the other. There were spices, garlic and chilli everywhere. Hard for an unaccustomed European stomach… So the trick is simple : eat white rice as an accompaniment to extinguish the flames. Rather effective. And besides, it didn’t stop us from enjoying the feast, quite the contrary.

The proof came with this excellent Korean barbecue. A classic and a must for lovers of grilled and juicy meat. Bon appétit ! 


*Campbell early is produced in South Korea, United States, Japan and Taiwan and is known as a table grape with a taste of muscat but not as interesting for the wine industry because it requires very hard work as a grape variety.
**For more information : Château Mani

 Thank you to Sébastien Menut and Ah-Reum Kim for their invaluable assistance.

Taiwan : where vine grows between rice paddie and red dragon fruit

Welcome to Taiwan, a beautiful island of 35,961 km2 to the South East of China where there are as many scooters as there are people.

Taiwan is a good country to live in and a place where you always feel welcomed with open arms. And it doesn’t matter that majority of the Taiwanese population do not (yet) speak good English, since the people in the street are all extremely friendly and willing to help at any time. It warms the heart.

It even appears that vines grow here…
And yes, wine made ​​in Taiwan does exist ! And its history is one of the most recent : estate wine production dates back to 2002. Prior to this farmers and homeowners were not authorised to produce their own wine and any production of vine grapes had to be sold to the Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor Corporation (TTL), the monopolist Government company.

A custom made program

We were greeted on arrival by a team of wine lovers – growers, importers and journalists – who have concocted a week of travelling (more than attractive) for us : Estate visits, a lunch with the Vice Governor of the Changhua County, the election of “Miss Grape”, the discovery of Oolong tea and the exploration of the coast. A great program.
But first of all, let’s go to the center of the Island, to the Changhua region, where most of the country’s wineries are situated : a table grape on two growing in Taiwan is from the Changhua County.

We arrived after a 3-hour drive from Taipei, the capital. After getting out of the car, the heat and humidity overcame us instantly. A few minutes later we were literally soaked from head to toe.

Extreme weather conditions

Making wine in Taiwan is a real challenge, both technically and humanly. The vines are often to be found between cultures of red dragon fruit and rice, and this is not by coincidence. There is constant moisture in the air. It rains a lot and the soils are always wet, which makes it difficult to reach optimal maturity of grapes.
In Taiwan there are no seasons and the climate is tropical : winters are warm – 22°C on average – and the vines never rest. Imagine… here, theoretically at least, up to 3 harvests per year is possible. But vines need dormancy to rest and to build up resources to produce vigorous grapes. Add to that the typhoons from July to September. No doubt, we are in the heart of “extreme viticulture”.
However making Taiwanese wine is not impossible. Far from it. “We just have to be passionate wine lovers; constantly attentive and working hard in both the vineyard and the cellar”, explained us Hammer Huang, the winemaker of Domaine Croissance Profonde Estate.

JB & Hammer Huang

JB & Hammer Huang

And if all the winegrowers on the Island have a common point, it is their passion for wine. As you can imagine, making wine in such conditions is a huge personal and financial investment. At some point between 2011 and 2014, 10 of the 24 existing wineries have stopped their activity and replaced there vineyards with red dragon fruit which are more profitable and less tiring : red dragon fruit are harvested more than 6 times per year, require little care and are sold at good prices in the Japanese market.

Tastings “made in Taiwan“

We have met some lovely winemakers. All working manually throughout the year, as no winery exceeds one hectare of plantation. The vines are grown using pergola* trelissing to avoid diseases. Sometimes the grapes are protected with small plastic bags – a practice generally used for table grapes. We were surprised by the size of the berries that sometimes reached the circumference of small plums.

Some wineries are doing well qualitatively, especially bearing in mind the context.
4 wines have caught our attention:
-“Black Queen 2013“, from Domaine Croissance Profonde Estate
The only wine from the Estate with only 600 bottles produced every year! Undoubtedly the most successful wine we tasted. Nose of black fruit, vanilla and cocoa – aged 6 months in French and American oak barrels. Rich palate with lots of tannins. Fruity finish. 14% vol. Cellar price : 110 USD (environ 82€)
-“Jen Shiang N°1 white 2011“, from Peng Chiun Ding Estate
A white wine made from local grapes : hybrid creations of the owner which do not have names, but numbers. Muscat nose, dried fruit and candied lemon. Fresh and sweet in mouth. Easy drinking wine, good as an aperitif. 12% vol. Cellar price : 30 USD (about 22€)

-“Nature & Dainties red 2012“, from Peng Chiun Ding Estate & “Imperial red wine Black Queen 2013“, from Sunshine Unbosom Estate
Red wines made of Black Queen** and aged in stainless steel tanks. Nose of currants and sour candy. Little tannins. Crispy and fresh on the palate. 12% vol. Cellar price : around 20 USD (about 15€).

« Miss Grape 2014 »

We ended this week of wine discovering in the Changhua County with an unexpected and enjoyable Sunday. Mr Ke Cheng Fang, the Vice Governor of the County wanted us to meet up to discuss the richness and the diversity of Changhua agriculture.

The County is renowned throughout Asia for its production of flowers, grapes, grapefruit and red dragon fruit. And I can confirm that the fruit we have enjoyed during the promotional discourse were absolutely delicious.
To follow was the election of “Miss Grape 2014”, to which we were invited. This is an annual election broadcasted live on television across the country and highlighting, in its way, the virtues of local agriculture. The presenter was raging while the contestants were parading and votes appeared gradually on a screen as the viewers voted by remote control.

The moment was nice. If someone had told me that I would see these Taiwanese contestants with grapes sewn into their dresses and hats…

Oolong – Tea’ Rolls

While recovering from our emotions, we left to the North to discover Oolong, an unique Taiwanese variety  of shrubs, giving teas with exotic fruit flavours. Producing a bag of Oolong tea is a « true work of ants »: only the young shoots of each shrub are harvested twice a year, ie the equivalent of 3 to 5 leaves per shrub. Imagine the number of shrubs needed for a cup of tea…

Séquence 011_EDT1
Here each tea service is a ritual, a kind of testimony of gratitude to this noble product, drank and enjoyed around the world. Firstly water is poured at 90°C to open the tea leaves, and then discarded. The same is done for each cup to warm the container. Then hot water is added to the cup for about one minute – at the discretion of the master, and we drink the tea very hot, at 42 ° C. This process is repeated ten times, and then the tea leaves are changed to continue the tasting (good aromas of mango, pineapple and passion fruit…).

JB, Zhang Jia-xian & Ludo

JB, Zhang Jia-xian & Ludo

We learned that it is the fermentation of the leaves which gave power to the tea and modified its perfumes. For example green tea is unfermented tea – or very little, up to 15%. Conversely the black tea is 80 to 100% fermented. The more the tea is fermented, the more subtle the fragrance, developing  notes of damp earth and undergrowth.
One has to understand that Oolong is rare and precious. It tends to grow in mountainous areas, over 1500m in altitude. So to better understand the culture of this unique tea, we spent the night in the mountains, in the middle of a plantation, with Mr Zhang Jia-xian, a humble and talented producer. We dined under the stars sipping two Italian reds : a Langhe Rosso 2010 from Mustela and a Nebiollo d’Alba 2010 from Negretti. A little bit of Paradise.

In closing of this magical moment, we lunched along the coast enjoying some seafood. We had the opportunity to enjoy two new culinary experiences : eating small whole local crabs – it’s good, crispy and it melts on the tongue. And something a little more adventurous – crunching a fish eye… much less appetising – it is viscous and cartilage… the second eye  remained on the soup plate !

Before leaving Taiwan for further Wine Explorers’ adventures, we simply had to experience  Xiao Long Pao, a culinary specialty invented by Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain of restaurants very famous in Asia (originally from Shanghai).

Xiao Long Pao are among the best dumplings in the world. They are fresh pasta stuffed by hand with a preparation of pork and soup, which is accompanied by a sprig of fresh ginger and dipped in vinegar and fermented soybean sauce. An explosion of flavours and textures, between the hot soup and the freshness of the vinegar, crunchy ginger and fudge ravioli.   We have not recovered yet… To be enjoyed urgently !



*Pergola : for more information, cf article on Japanese wines
**Black Queen is a Japanese hybrid grape variety 

Thank you to Mr Sanza Bulaya, Mme Daisy Hu, Mr Hammer Huang, Mr Yusen Lin et Pr Liang-Chih Chen for their warm welcome.

And during this time in Hong Kong

We had a little detour in Hong Kong at end of May – even though there are no vines growing there (at the moment) – to attend Vinexpo Asia-Pacific, the leading event in the wine and spirits industry in Asia, where we could glean valuable contacts for the rest of the Wine Explorers’ adventure !

We took this opportunity to interview Guillaume Deglise (CEO of Vinexpo), Yang Lu (Corporate Wine Director for Shangri-La Hotel Group), Debra Meiburg MW (wine writer, wine speaker and wine educator) and Eddison Leung (Buying Manager for Watson’s Wine).
These four key players in the wine and spirits business gave us their views on the wine market in Hong Kong and China. They talked about the importance that we give today to the concept of “terroir” in the wine world – an issue at the heart of current concerns. Finally, with friendship and humour, our four guests shared their feelings about the Wine Explorers’ project.
Crossed interviews…

WINE EXPLORERS : Hong Kong, the strategic center of wine in Asia ?

Guillaume Deglise

Guillaume Deglise

GUILLAUME DEGLISE : Hong Kong is an amazing market. This is “the” hub for Asian markets with the proximity of China and especially with the cessation of duties since February 2008, which makes it an essential platform. And then there is the proximity to other Asian markets in the South which are being developed with growth rates in double figures, something quite unique. This is the area which currently attracts all the attention.
EDDISON LEUNG : Hong Kong is the window of China. Here the wine business has been very active for twenty years now and a variety of wines, ranging from easy drinking quaffers to fine wines, is offered to an audience of sophisticated consumers who are well educated in this regard and have purchasing power. The average purchase prize is between 60 and 120 euros.
DEBRA MEIBURG MW : Hong Kong has often been one of the transiting cities for China. Once the Hong Kong Government removed the luxury taxation, the duty, wine became a luxury product that was actually tax free. There is no other metropolis in the world which has attempted this. The wine market absolutely exploded. So it’s been a bit chaotic, but on the up side, it gave to the Media the  opportunity to create some order from this chaos by doing market research, building trade resources and providing guide books to help the consumers.

WE : Is China a mature market ?

YANG LU : The Wine Market in China has shown phenomenal growth in the last 4-5 years. However, the Chinese market is not as big as people think. Although there are 1.5 billion people in China, wine consumption is still very low. In general, wine is perceived as a luxury item in China, a lifestyle. For some it has already become an investment product. I hope that wine will reach more regular consumers. The purpose of wine is firstly to provide pleasure, otherwise we are missing something.
GUILLAUME DEGLISE : China is far from being mature and we have all reason to believe that it is in its infancy. At the distribution point, the potential is enormous : especially in large cities. But with the development of other cities that already have millions of inhabitants, we can expect very strong distribution. Consumption per capita is only 1.5 liters in China. It is 50L in France, 45L in Italy and around 30L in the United States. And then there is the emergence of what we call the “middle class” : new consumers who arrive with high purchasing power and who can have fun with wines from all origens.
DEBRA MEIBURG MW : Wine has been so successful in China because it’s an affordable luxury. These days maybe less and less so, but wine gives one a sense of pleasure and achievement. I can afford this very special drink to share with my friends. You can’t share a Ferrari with your friends, but you can share a bottle of wine with a table full of friends, and everyone shares in the pleasure. China is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world –  it’s a little difficult to calculate the statistics because China imports quite a lot of bulk wine, which is mixed with the local production – but this will definitely help to educate the Chinese consumers.

Eddison Leung

Eddison Leung

 : China is a growing market which showed a vast improvement for 4 years now. Today the majority of purchases average between 10 and 30 euros. While 2-3 years back it was mainly in the 10 euros or less price bracket. China is a major producer of wine, which is not a threat to imports, on the contrary. At the moment 80% of wines consumed are domestic wines. There is a lot of potential.

WE : Is buying wine in China considered to be foremost fashionable or about passion ?

DEBRA MEIBURG MW : In China I think, wine started out mainly as a badge of achievement, a sign of success, a signature of luxury. And in a way, it was a little bit showy of the mark, but the market is maturing now, and we have serious and sincere connoisseurs buying wine. Sometimes the Chinese market is misunderstood, thinking that people are pouring wine only to show off their wealth. But in fact, what I see is people pouring wine for friends to show their respect.
YANG LU : At this stage wine is still a fashion product. And there is nothing shameful about that. It’s a new market, especially mainland China. If one looks at Japan 20 years ago, or the United States 30 years ago… you will see the same thing : people start out drinking wine as a stylish and trendy product. Education is paramount.  The more we study, the more we will learn. And the more we learn, the more we will enjoy all kinds of wines from all over the world. We are getting there very fast.
EDDISON LEUNG : There is a bit of both. At present, the emphasis is still on fashion, this is the reality. And same goes for all other luxury goods in Hong Kong and China.  This is the usual way for learning here : we like fashion first and then we buy for passion.

Panorama sans titre1_EDT1
WE : The 5 wine producing countries/regions to watch in the coming years ?

EDDISON LEUNG : 5 countries in which I see great potential to follow…
-Uruguay, Mexico and South America in general
-Slovenia and Greece
-and of course the most important for me, China
-Austria, still not well enough known, or known only by wine lovers
-Uruguay, THE new destination in South America
-Loire Valley wines in France : the perfect balance
-Georgia, where there is a beautiful story and still unknown wines
-South Tyrol in Italy, which has extraordinary wines, especially white
-Rhone Valley in France, North and South
-Germany for the rieslings
-South Africa
-Washington State (USA)
-and of course, China
DEBRA MEIBURG MW : I think I’ll have to consider the Asian influence, because this is the fastest growing market in the world and certainly has the most potential. So what Asia will be interested in will be:
-certainly South Africa
-Italy without a doubt
-Chile, which has worked so hard in this market
-New Zealand
-and China itself.

Debra Meiburg, MW

Debra Meiburg, MW

WE : What do you think about the concept of “terroir” ?

GUILLAUME DEGLISE : I believe in the notion of terroir for great wines. Today you can make wine in many countries, and the Wine Explorers brings us the evidence. We must also examine new techniques. Take a vintage like 2013 in Bordeaux, judged a little challenging. The wines are still pretty darn good for a difficult vintage. 25 years ago it would have been complicated. Today with the new techniques we can make excellent quality wines with great terroirs even in difficult years. And we can certainly make quality wines – average but acceptable – in some new countries ; with soils that are poorly mastered for example. The concept of terroir is very important for fine wines and it must be defended ; as with the appellations systems in Europe for example. This is crucial.
YANG LU : Terroir is a tricky topic. I believe in it, but I don’t speak of it every day. I think the word is over used, abused and almost becomes a marketing word sometimes. But don’t get me wrong, I do believe in terroir! Terroir is very unique and has a fantastic advantage : diversity.
In Chinese, terroir is called the « Tian Di Ren », 3 words in Chinese :
-Tian means SKY, which can be thought of as climate : the kind of climate you are in, the weather, the rainfall, the sunshine…
-Di is earth : which refers to the slope of the vineyard, the aspect, the altitude, the soils, the subsoils, depth…
-and Ren, the human being. The people who make the wine, they are the real masters of wine.
So for me terroir consist of these 3 simple Chinese words : « Tian Di Ren » : sky, earth and the human beeing.
DEBRA MEIBURG MW : When I think about terroir I think of the weather, the climate. I also think of the soils and the site : the slope, the direction, the angle, the relationship between the site and the sun. And most definitely you have to include people, because at the end of the day, even though winemakers are fond of saying that the wine makes itself, it’s simply not true. A soft touch and a hand on the wine, really helps it to reflect the site, the soil and the weather. These things are all important.

WE : What are your thoughts on the idea that “great wines” are exclusively terroir wines ?

GUILLAUME DEGLISE : We must link great wines and the heritage, the history. The big difference regarding wine today between Bordeaux and China lies in the 300 years gap. It’s not really a matter of terroir. This is about the history, the heritage, the knowledge of soils… the tradition. History will always be history.
DEBRA MEIBURG MW : You can make a drinkable wine anywhere in the world, but to make a great wine, you need a great  terroir. On the opposite side, you can get delicious, very affordable wines with mass production but sometimes struggle to get a top class luxury wine when speaking about volumes.

WE : If you had the opportunity to buy a vineyard tomorrow, where would you like to have it ?

EDDISON LEUNG : If I have the opportunity to buy a vineyard, it will be in Bordeaux. I am fascinated by the history of the Bordeaux region.
DEBRA MEIBURG MW : I think this will be one of the toughest decisions of my life. South Africa would have to be on my list and of course my dear Sonoma County (California – USA), my home town.
YANG LU : In France, in Saint Joseph. Just on the slope off Tournon. I dream of it every day.
GUILLAUME DEGLISE : In Provence, in the South of France.

Yang Lu

Yang Lu

What are your thoughts on the Wine Explorers project ?

GUILLAUME DEGLISE : First of all, Wine Explorers is a very innovative project, because nobody has done it yet. And at the same time we are a little jealous because we would like to be a little fly on the camera to know exactly what you’re going through. What excites me about this project is that we are in a world where we need to go super fast, where we want to sell everything very quickly. And you are taking 3 years to go meet people, ask questions, and get back to us with something fresh and really new.
EDDISON LEUNG : This is a unique, ambitious and courageous project. We all dream of doing such a project, but it is still difficult to implement. I share a great enthusiasm and passion for Wine Explorers.
YANG LU : I hope you can complete it and I support you very much. On the other side I envy you very much, because for me if you love wine, if you want to study  wine, you need to go to the source, to the vineyard, to talk to the vignerons, to the people who make the wines. And that’s what you are going to do for the next 3 years. It must be a great journey.
DEBRA MEIBURG MW : It has to be the world’s best road trip. To be able to spend time with the wine producing communities around the world and the key markets for wine must be an amazing experience. And taking the time that the Wine Explorers’ project is taking will really allow for in depth knowledge. And hopefully it will educate the wine world. I’m hoping that you will allow me to drive the van !

In conclusion we want to show you another side of Hong Kong. A face shown less frequently, but which is of rare beauty : the mountainous jungle. Because if Hong Kong is known as the “city in 3D”, it is because living space is rare : 80% of the land consist of mountains. And the wet climate of the territory is home to a dense tropical flora.
We had the chance to do some treks during our stay. It climbs, it is high, you sweat… but at the end the landscape is like a postcard.
If you love wild rides : Hong Kong is for you!



*Thank you to Matthieu Naudy for being our guide and allowing us to another side of Hong Kong.

Coco Farm & Winery – featuring the 2 Great Ladies of a beautiful project

“We venerate Tradition and always try Revolution“, IKEGAMI CHIEKO.

 In our article on Japanese wines we spoke about the Coco Farm & Winery estate, a great example of oenotourism and the integration of disabled workers (the students).

IKEGAMI CHIEKO (à gauche) & MACHIKO OCHI (à droite)

IKEGAMI CHIEKO (à gauche) & MACHIKO OCHI (à droite)

In this article we will focus on this estate started by Noboru KAWATA in 1984 in Ashikaga (Tochigi prefecture) which is today in the good hands of his two daughters : Ikegami CHIEKO, responsible for the Winery, and Machiko OCHI, responsible for the Center.

WINE EXPLORERS : Can you tell us a bit about your background as an introduction ?

IKEGAMI CHIEKO : I was born on the 15th of October 1950. After graduating from Tokyo Women’s University I started working for SOSHISHA, a publishing company in 1972. One day I decided to take an oenology course at Tokyo Agriculture College and found it fascinating. So naturally I joined the Coco Farm & Winery in April 1984.
I have been the Vice Presidente of the Coco Farm & Winery since 1989, and in 2009 I was awarded the titel of executive officer by the Tokyo Agriculture University. I’m also the Chief Governor of COCOROMI GAKUEN (a facility of social welfare) and a member of the Union Japonaise des Œnologues.
MACHIKO OCHI : I’m the second daughter of Noboru KAWATA. I was born on the 23rd of January 1956. At the university I majored in social welfare. I immediatly started working for COCOROMI GAKUEN. And before I took over my father’s position (Chief Administrator of COCOROMI GAKUEN), I worked in vineyard as a grape grower.

WE : How was the Coco Farm & Winery’s vineyard born ?

IKEGAMI : When Noboru KAWATA (founder of COCOROMI-GAKUEN) was the teacher of a special class for mentally and intellectually challenged junior high school students, he found that his students always looked like they were feeling nervous at their school desks. However they acted very differently in the mountains.
Because their intellectual abilities were impaired, the families of these students thought they could not amount to much. Thus, their developmental needs were not a priority. However, Noboru had a different idea…
For these students, only hard work at the farm could possibly highlight their capabilities. He created the vineyard for the students in order for them to be able to experience the joy of harvesting and to end up in the vineyard at least once a year, to provide them with something that could give them a sense of selfworth.  He wanted them to be able to be proud of what they can accomplish and since there is such a strong link between what ones does and who one considers oneself to be, he wanted them to be able to link themselves in this manner to their occupation.
MACHIKO : Our father chose grapes from many other fruit because it could be turned into wine. He always enjoyed wine for the joy of sharing it.

WE : What are your students doing at Coco Farm & Winery ?

MACHIKO : Students perform a multitude of different tasks throughout the year which includes the following :
1. Putting paper umbrellas around all grape clusters
2. Cutting the grass in the vineyards
3. Pruning
4. Shedding vine leaves
5. Taking care of the young shoots
6. Harvesting the grapes
7. Collecting the pruned shoots
8. Spraying the vineyards with the required chemicals
9. Crushing and pressing grapes
10. Working on the bottling line
11. Assisting packaging for shipping
12. … and so much more !

WE : Are visitors sensitive to the fact that challenged people are working in the vineyards ?

MACHIKO : Half of the people don’t notice that fact nor do they care about it. The other half is very impressed that they are working in this way.
IKEGAMI : But in the end it is always an exciting thing to work in a vineyard with the aim of obtaining the highest possible quality of grapes, regardless of who tends to the vines.  

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This vineyard in the mountains, North of Ashikaga, is a physical challenge to work in: it has a steep slope of 38 degrees average of inclination ! We tested it, it’s really abrupt. Why did you choose to plant vines here ? “Because at the time it wasn’t possible to obtain agricultural land on flat ground, only on the steep slopes of the mountains“, said Machiko.
However, the southwest exposure offers very good conditions for the ripening of the grapes. And the steep slopes allow efficient drainage of rainwater between mid-June and mid-October. Rather important considering the average annual rainfall of between 1,100 and 1,200mm per year! And for the students this exercise of endurance is very beneficial: “they learn patience, it allows them to work with the seasons and sometimes lead them to improvisation working on sloping land, which is very stimulating“, Ikegami added.
Moreover these are excellent soils for growing vines: a mixture of graphics, basalt and Jurassic shale.

And when they are not working in the vineyard, the students are involved in transporting the logs, from the farm to the edge of the forest. Because it is here first moistened, then stored in columns of sections aligned in nature – where it will later develop shiitake, the delicious Japanese mushroom that goes wonderfully with soups, meat and fish.

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WE : Oenotourism is highly developed on the Estate. Is it one of the key of Coco Farm & Winery’s success ?

IKEGAMI : From its origen wine has had a very strong connection with food. It must remain something fun for people coming from the vineyard and the cellar, to sit in the restaurant and to order wine. On the other hand, COCOROMI GAKUEN is a center of social well-being in which it is not common to have any fun. So it would be very nice if the many customers who visit COCOROMI GAKUEN do so not only for comfort, but also to enjoy the environment related to the wine.
And we must always keep in mind that a winery shouldn’t only be a cash machine; we must continue to improve wine quality and customer satisfaction above all. Wine tourism is an important point, but it is the general harmony reigning over the domain that is our strength.

WE : Are you having difficulties working with mentally and intellectually challenged people ?

MACHIKO : They tend to be very honesty, and very rigid. So we always have to behave in the right way. They are fantastic people.

WE : Why do you have such a great diversity of wines in the range ?

IKEGAMI : Coco Farm & Winery always try to listen to the « voice » of the grapes – telling us which wine they want to become.
Also we don’t use cultivated yeast. We ferment only with natural ones. We venerate what the grapes want to be. The number of wines in the range is decided naturally. And we have quite a few products in the range now, mostly made from Muscat Bailey A, Norton, Tana, Riesling Lion*, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Manseng.

WE : Which are your 2 most successful wines ?

IKEGAMI : Our sparkling wine NOVO, a pure Riesling Lion made in the traditional method champenoise.
And DAIICHI GAKUSHOU (“first movement”), a red Muscat Bailey A – which is one of typical Japanese grape varietals. We use natural yeast, no chemical treatment, just leaving the grapes to do what they want to do. No filtration and a long aging. This wine is the first trial and the first step to Japanese wine growing.

WE : Will you increase the number of students in the coming years ?

MACHIKO : We would like to, but I’m not sure that we will be able to. The current students are getting older and many of the new students have more severe problems. And it’s hard to find staff, many people don’t like this type of work which is rather hard and dirty.

WE : Any new wine coming soon in the range ?

IKEGAMI : I don’t know if we will add a new wine to our range in the near future, but it is possible. “We venerate Tradition and always try Revolution“.

Wine Explorers’cheers,


*Riesling Lion is a crossing between Japanese Koshu Sanjaku x Riesling. With the same parents of the variety Riesling Forte.

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