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November 18, 2012 - Annual Coco Harvest Festival

The annual Coco Harvest Festival i has come and gone once again! The Winery, located in the mountains of Ashikaga City in Tochigi Prefecture, is famous for its annual Harvest Festival, featuring a chance for locals and tourists alike to relax and drink wine under the grape vines for a weekend in November. If you are a wine lover, this event is for you!

Coco Harvest Festival is held every year on the third weekend of November, which this year fell on November 17th and 18th. Since the 17th was projected to be rainy in the afternoon, I went on Sunday the 18th. Times are from 10:30AM to 3:30PM, with last orders being at 3:00PM.

Since there is no parking and it is illegal to drink and drive here in Japan, the best way to come is by train. Buses and taxis run from both the JR Ashikaga station, and the Tobu Ashikaga station. Because of the bad weather on Saturday, Sunday was unusually packed, and the line for the bus looked to be about an hour. We decided on a taxi, which took about 20 minutes to get through the line, then another 15 or so to take us there. We were able to share a taxi with 2 others, and the total was 1820 yen for one way. The bus is a little cheaper (about 300 yen per person) and you are shown a video about Coco Winery on the way (only in Japanese), but it also takes a bit longer.

You can buy a ticket at the station or at the door for 3000 yen, which you then exchange for a Harvest Kit. The kit contains a commemorative wine glass and a holder for it, a button to prove you've paid, and a ticket to exchange for a bottle of white or red wine, or sparkling grape juice. The wine also comes with a bottle opener and a small amount of food, Camembert cheese with the red and garlic toast with the white.

Sorry for the lack of pictures of the harvest kit and bottles... it is kinda hard to juggle bag, purse, camera, and still get the harvest kit with only two hands!

The bottles you get also come with a special commemorative design on them, which we always save!

After you collect your Harvest Kit and maybe buy some food, it is time to find a spot! The best, flat spots fill up FAST so I recommend getting there ASAP! Even a small slope can end up being... tricky... when you've been drinking for awhile! Our spot wasn't perfectly flat, but wasn't bad either!

There is a wide variety of foods available, from sausages and meats to cheeses and breads, and many other things. I saw some sort of yummy looking shrimp dish this year, as well as pasta. This guy sold out pretty early, and no wonder... those sausages were the best!

Another special thing about the event is a chance to try "Nama" wine, fresh wine that hasn't been filtered yet. It has a signature sort of smokey look, and is offered in both white and rose. We tried both, and boy are they good! A liter carafe is 2500 yen, and refills are 2000 yen. I was smart this year and brought last year's carafe back, so I saved a bit. Also, lines can often get pretty long for food, so you can also bring your own.

Sit down, relax, have a bite to eat and some amazing wine, listen to the great selections of live music playing up on the stage and "KANPAI" with everyone when the time comes... and make some friends with people around you! Especially as the day goes on, people become much friendlier with their neighbors. Why, when I slipped on the slope and went heels over head yet managed to save almost all the wine in my glass, I even got a round of applause! Because I'm awesome like that.

As you can probably imagine, as the day wears on and people start to leave, the lines get longer and longer. I think the taxi line took around 30-45 minutes when we finally left, and it was only getting longer. I've done the bus line before and it is at least an hour. Also, people often leave earlier to avoid these lines, so even around 2PM they are already filling up. This is another good time to make friends around you and talk to make time pass.

However despite the long lines for transportation, food, and bathrooms (oh the bathroom lines! ARG!), this event is a really fun time of the year. Even though this year was REALLY windy and crowded, I had a ton of fun!

Some tips and tricks for those considering the festival:

-Check the weather beforehand to decide on a day. If the weather is the same between two days, Saturday will be slightly more crowded but otherwise it will be pretty evenly split. However if one day has bad weather, the other day will be VERY crowded. So be prepared.

-If you are wanting accommodations for Saturday night, BOOK EARLY! This is a popular and well-known event, so hotel rooms go fast.

-Prepare for weather by wearing/bringing appropriate clothing (I suggest layering, it does get hot in the sun despite a November chill), and wear good solid shoes. You will be drinking. On a mountain. No heels, girls!

-Some things I would bring or buy: a tarp to sit on, and a proper one that you can anchor to the ground. The hills seem to only get steeper as the drinking goes on. Some food/water for when the lines get long. A hat/sunscreen for sunny days, an extra tarp and a rain jacket for rainy ones. Towels. You will spill wine at some point! A plastic bag to use as a trash bag. You can even bring a small set of mini-table and chairs if you don't mind carrying them!

Finally, if you want to check out the Winery but aren't in town for the Festival, no worries! They do wine tours and tastings during the year, so it is worth a visit any time! Here is the website in both Japanese and English:

See you next year!

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List of Posts:
2016/04/24 - Mitsuhiko Imamori Paper Cut Works Exhibit in Takasaki
2015/11/19 - Shiobara Onsen, Tochigi
2015/08/30 - Southern Kyushu: Miyazaki City
2015/08/30 - Southern Kyushu: Nichinan Coast and Cape Toi
2015/08/30 - Southern Kyushu: Takachiho, Miyazaki
2015/08/27 - Southern Kyushu: Kumamoto Castle
2015/08/25 - Southern Kyushu: Ibusuki and Kirishima
2015/08/24 - Southern Kyushu: Kagoshima City, Kagoshima
2015/08/03 - Tambara Lavender Park
2015/07/13 - Event: Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium
2015/05/01 - Kanna-machi Koi-no-Bori Festival
2015/05/01 - Wisteria Festival in Fujioka
2014/11/15 - Sakurayama Koen: Fall Colors and Winter-blooming Cherry Blossoms
2014/11/15 - Ueno-mura Sky Bridge and Fall Colors
2014/08/22 - Gifu Road Trip Part 1: Gifu City and Gujo Caves
2014/08/22 - Gifu Road Trip Part 2: Gujo City and Shirakawa-go
2014/08/22 - Gifu Road Trip Part 3: Hida Takayama
2014/07/02 - Rainy Season around Tokyo: Hydrangea Flowers
2014/05/27 - Road Trip: Yamadera, Yamagata
2014/05/26 - Road Trip: Yonezawa, Yamagata
2014/05/19 - Roadtrip Fukushima's Ouchijuku
2014/05/16 - Roadtrip: Aizu-Wakamatsu
2014/04/30 - Climbing Gunma's Mt. Myogi
2014/03/09 - Flower Weekend 2: Tokyo Report
2014/03/09 - Flower Weekend 1: Gunma Plums
2013/10/30 - Onioshidashi Koen and Mt. Asama Part 1
2013/10/30 - Onioshidashi Koen and Mt. Asama Part 2
2013/10/30 - Cosmos and Mt. Myogi
2013/10/01 - Fall Flowers: Higanbana
2012/12/01 - Winter Cherry Blossoms at Joumine Kouen
2012/11/18 - Annual Coco Harvest Festival
2012/11/11 - Ueno Cat cafe ''Nekomaru''
2012/11/10 - Tokyo Design Festa vol.36 at Odaiba
2012/11/04 - Utsunomiya, Tochigi Gyoza Festival