I recently participated in my first harvest. It was at the Rue de Vin winery in Tomi, Nagano on one of those perfect days that people imagine wine harvests are like–sun, crisp air and fall colors.
While I had always viewed participating in a harvest as work, I realized that it is a great form of tourism. There were about fifteen of us, all volunteers, from Tokyo, Nagano and other nearby prefectures. There were couples, friend groups and a family with two small children. All, even the children, could participate and all, like me, probably left that day with a positive image of Rue de Vin and Nagano wine. The mid-day picnic lunch in the vineyards with wine certainly left a good impression!
I think it is forward-thinking for Rue de Vin to provide this type of tourism. People are more likely to buy wine after visiting the place where it was made. Further, an interactive experience like participating in harvest gives people a sense of having contributed to making a particular wine. This makes it more likely that they will purchase wine and that they will tell their friends about the experience and recommend the wine.
In addition, participating in a wine-related activity like harvest educates people about how wine is made. Personally, I was surprised by how much time is required for harvest. We only did two rows for the whole day! Yes, we were all amateurs, but the process for picking out good and bad grapes is time-consuming. I appreciate now how labor intensive wine making is and understand better about how cost, particularly in Japan which is suffering from a declining population, may be high.
After lunch, we stopped by the winery shop to purchase a few bottles of wine. There I noticed that Rue de Vin also participates in a tour called Wine Walk in Tomi where visitors can take a walking tour of the Tomi area and stop by the local wineries for food and drink. I appreciate that Rue de Vin is focused on tourism and promoting itself and Nagano as a wine region. I hope to see more of these tourism opportunities in Nagano.
As I have written in past posts, the Japanese wine boom needs support from its domestic audience. Giving consumers the opportunity to engage in the vineyard and winery–and then filling them up with some good food and wine–is how to build a loyal customer base.