My dear friend Yamada-san
September 11, 2001 was a day that changed my life. I had worked as a cellar rat at Windows on the World. A friend of mine, who also started out with me working in the wine cellar, had just been promoted at WOW. We had a wine class together on September 10th at WOW. He had said that some of our friends, who also worked at WOW, were out of town that week for a wedding. Steve told me that he was placing orders for wine and was now working the day shift. He had come to wine late in life but seemed to have found his niche.
But the next morning everything changed. I was downtown NYC in Soho and knew immediately that Steve was in the towers. I knew the drill for what to do if there was an emergency or a terrorist attack. Because we had training before we could start working. It was a known fact that the WTC was a target for future attacks.
The first days and weeks after the Twin Towers fell down are all a blur. But eventually I decided that the only thing that mattered for me was my family and friends. Most of my family is in Japan and I have a lot of friends in Japan as well. A day and a year later, on September 12, 2002, I moved back to Japan to start a new chapter in my life. I landed in a beautiful place called Coco Farm and Winery in Ashikaga, Tochigi. A small city an hour and a bit north of Tokyo. I could live and work at the winery for three months. It was a magical time in my life, and well needed after 9/11. Each year there is a Harvest Festival, the third weekend in November.
The winery is staffed with developmentally disabled individuals who live on the grounds. It is their pure hearts that makes this a special place for everyone who comes to visit. On the weekend of the Harvest Festival some of them dress up for the day. Can you see the angel wings?
They take turns wearing a large wine bottle costume.
While others dress up as clowns. Live music is performed and many of the students dance freely around the grounds.
There are many food stations and everyone coming in gets a bottle of wine, or if you prefer, a bottle of grape juice. Visitors bring along a picnic blanket and sit on the steep hills of the vineyard.
The 2013 Harvest Festival is November 16 and 17. Entrance is 3,000 JPY. If you are coming from Tokyo, take the train to Ashikaga, Tochigi. But be warned, the lines for the shuttle bus from Ashikaga station to the winery can be very long. Taxi lines also long. So, go early!
If you can’t make it this weekend, then think about coming on another day. The winery is open all-year long with a short holiday over New Year’s. There is a café and a tasting room. My favorite wines here include a Kerner and the Coco Rose. The winery makes everything from sparkling to a dessert wine. They have a big portfolio of wines to choose from.
I still remember fondly my time there. I didn’t know if the students were familiar with what happened outside of the winery, or even outside of Japan. I was talking with one of the students and when I told him I had come from New York City, he asked abpit 9/11 right away and expressed his sympathy for New Yorkers. It is the big hearts and sincerity of these students that I hope you can see if you visit. If you go, tell them that Yukari sent you.
CNN did a lovely video on the students at the winery.
The 2013 Harvest Festival is November 16 and 17. Entrance is 3,000 JPY.
Tochigi-ken, Ashikaga-shi, Tajima 611