Coco Farm and Winery support independent living for persons with disabilities
Compiled and translated by the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (JSRPD)
Looking up from the café verandah as you enjoy the Novo sparkling wine, you will find that the steep slopes are covered with vineyards as far as the eye can see. No cars can be used here. It is the students of Coco Romi Gakuen (Coco Romi School) next to the Coco Farm and Winery that take care of these vineyards. Coco Romi Gakuen is a residential facility for the rehabilitation of persons with intellectual disabilities. The vineyards are a good place for the students to get exercise and to work. Mr. Noboru Kawada, who is a principal of Coco Romi Gakuen, says, "We thought that it would be a very good training for the students."
The students of Coco Romi Gakuen harvest grapes and help with the bottling process. Others wrap bunches of grapes in little bags to keep insects away and patrol vineyards to shoo crows. Those with slight disability help operating a machine to mash up grapes.
High up in the mountains...
Coco Farm and Winery is located in the mountains of Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, and is about a three hour drive from Tokyo. It is open to the public and visitors can enjoy drinking a welcome glass of Coco "NOVO" before they start touring the site. This wine was served at the State Dinner held by Prime Minister Mori during the Okinawa summit in July 2001. On the green bottle of NOVO indicated in standard print and Braille, there is writing:
"The Sun rises... Beautiful foam rises in the glass... "NOVO" is a delicious sparkling wine, a product of a great many years and hands at work...
In the 1950s boys plowed the steep slopes and made these vineyards. Now as always we use selected grapes harvested from these old vines - using French-inspired 'methode Champenoise' production techniques. Secondary fermentation and remunage in bottles take place is in a special-built fermentation caves on mountainside."
First living & working experiment established in 1969
In 1958, Mr. Kawada was a teacher in charge of a special class of a junior high school. He and his students devoted 2 years to cultivating 3 hectares of the steep slopes of Coco Romi. Ten years later, Mr. Kawada and 9 other staff members began to develop the facilities further, without financial support from the city, prefecture or state. Living and working together in a handmade house, by 1969 the social welfare corporation, "Coco Romi Gakuen" (accommodating 30 disabled people) was established. The purpose was to make a facility both valuable to the local community, and to provide training for mentally disabled people. The training was functional through its use of the hillside slopes, and helped to support a simple life philosophy in pleasant surroundings. The students helped each other in physical activities such as growing grapes and mushrooms, planting and removing trees and cutting undergrowth. Today 44 staff members and their 90 students live and work together. Ages range from 17 to 84.
Parents help establish company in 1984
In 1980 parents who supported Coco Romi Gakuen's idea of the pursuit of independent living for people with disabilities provided money and helped establish a limited company, "Coco Farm and Winery". In 1984, they received their license and started making wine, successfully shipping 12,000 bottles in the first year.
In 1989, they cultivated 2 hectares in Sano City to make vineyards, and leased 5 hectares in Sonoma, California. In the same year Mr. Kawada invited Mr. Bruce Gutlove, (a self-termed "troubleshooter of wine making" in the Napa Valley California) to Coco Farm in order to improve the quality of the wine. Originally his contract was for just 6 months.
Challenges for our "California connection"
After coming to Ashikaga, Mr. Gutlove found out how difficult wine making is in Japan. Location and climate are the problem. The kind of grape mainly used is Japanese Koshu, which is favored not because of its flavor but rather because of its resistance to diseases. Six months was nowhere near enough time to solve the problem and until today, he has been trying his best. However, according to him, the most important factor is working closely with the students, and wine making comes as a natural by-product of this relationship. As he has lived with the students for 6 years since he first came to Japan, what he says conveys his strong faith in helping the students' achieve self-dependence.
Sparkling wine introduced in 1992
Mr. Gutlove has worked hard with Mr. Kawada, his daughter Ms. Ochi, the vineyard manager, Mr. Ikegami, and the Managing Director of Coco Farm. The Japanese team has implemented ways to solve problems in wine production. As a result, from 1992 they have started making a sparkling wine from Koshu grapes by using orthodox champagne production methods, and named it "NOVO". They also produce delicious wines such as Oak Barrel, Vin Santo - a sweet dessert wine - and others. In this way, Coco Farm and Winery has successfully brought independent living to persons with disabilities, and a strong community business.
Now Coco Farm produces 150,000 bottles of wines per year. These wines are also available through Internet on line shopping. For more detailed information, please refer to their homepage at http://www.cocowine.com/english/english.html.