Hokkaido's wine movement

Hokkaido's growing wine movement

When most people think wine they don't immediately think of Hokkaido, and why should they? With 6 months of deep snow and a much more established tradition of Sake and Whisky, you would not expect Hokkaido to be the obvious place to start a winery, however, over the past few years there has been a growing movement towards developing a quality wine industry in several areas of Hokkaido.

One reason behind this has been as a result of a number of public / private sector partnerships and ongoing govt initiatives which has inspired a few pioneering winemakers to return to or re-settle in Hokkaido with the intention of developing a quality wine region like no other in Japan.

Grape growing and wine making is not new to Hokkaido, but the quality of much of the commercial wineries is questionable with many opting for sweeter varieties that appeal to an unsophisticated (or inexperienced) Japanese wine market.

I recently visited a few wineries in the Yoichi area, in South Western Hokkaido, and was both extremely disapointed and very pleasantly surprised by some of the more recent developments.

The unequivocal winner of the day was Occi Gabi where I was lucky to meet the owner and wine maker, Ochi san who has over 50 years of wine making under his belt, and returned to Hokkaido 7 years ago with a vision of creating his version of Napa Valley. Occi Gabi started producing wine five years ago with a limited selection of fruitier white and red varieties which has recently been expanded to include a few new varieties that have not really been seen in Hokkaido wine making before.

He discussed his vision in great detail and with great passion whilst showing us around his underground, temperature controlled cellar and bottling area and whilst still in its infancy, he left no doubt that Hokkaido has the potential to create good quality wine and more importantly a change in wine culture.

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