By making the most of Hokkaido’s climate and surroundings, delicious foods are being produced, skills from the pioneer period are being preserved and world-class items are being created. KAI headed out to the regions of Hokkaido to meet the professionals involved, and speak to them about the essence of their work and lives.
Viticulture and Wine Making

Yoichi’s environment is perfect for creating my favorite sparkling wines

Ms. Yuriko Sugawara of Rita Farm & Winery, Yoichi Town
Two years ago, a wine importer from California visited Yoichi. “This wine will evolve beautifully over time. This is the one!” remarked the importer, who had tasted wines throughout Japan before deciding on Rita Farm.
Words by Yajima Azusa  Photographs by Ida Yukitaka
Translation by Xene Inc.

Emphasizing hard acids, similar to champagne making

Before opening Rita Farm & Winery, Yuriko held a position in charge of wine importing. Her husband, Masato, worked for a fermenting equipment manufacturer.

When Yuriko’s work took her to the wineries of France, she was captivated by the flavor of champagnes made in traditional methods. Yuriko recalls, “Champagne is a cold region, and the sugar content of grapes does not develop. That’s why the technique of creating sparkling wines that emphasize acidity has been passed down from generation to generation. Sparkling wines lacking acidity seem incomplete, presenting blunt, unbalanced flavor. The more acidity, the better the balance becomes. It occurred to me that this technique would match Hokkaido’s conditions.” Yuriko was inspired both by these traditional methods and by the vivid lifestyles of the winemakers themselves. About 10 years ago, Yuriko, together with her husband, set out to find their place in the winemaking industry.

Yuriko’s dream is to open an auberge on their farm

Pesticides and herbicides are limited to the bare minimum. With summer comes the demanding task of cutting grass to improve airflow.

Yuriko lovingly cares for her trusty pruning scissors

Rita Farm was started by Yuriko’s mother in 1998.

Japan’s prominent grape cultivating regions include Yamanashi and Nagano. However, Yuriko realized that Hokkaido was more suited to producing sparkling wines similar to champagne. The town of Yoichi has little rainfall, resulting in more densely flavored grapes.

Natural bubbles created by secondary fermentation in the bottle

Rita Farm’s three-hectare vineyards contain only grape varietals designated for champagne production. The pinot noir, a red grape varietal, is not used for making red wine, but rather for creating carbonation after juicing under low pressure. They then blend in chardonnay, a white grape varietal. Yearly harvests are only about 10 tons, so they source other varietals from nearby farms, and are able to ship about 20,000 bottles per year.

“The farm is also a playground for our children, another reason we minimize chemical use wherever possible,” remarks Yuriko. Instead, they make special effort to strengthen the grape vines.

In the back is the recently-installed horizontal pneumatic press. Until last year, grapes were juiced by manual labor.

Devoting the winemaking process to traditional methods requires considerable faith in the strength of the grapes. Ordinarily, a cultivated yeast would be added in order to stabilize fermentation. On the other hand, traditional methods rely upon natural yeasts found on grape skins to provide fermentation, with nothing added to the squeezed grape juice. Most sparkling wines are produced by injecting carbon dioxide gas after the primary fermentation is complete. Rita Farm & Winery performs secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce natural bubbles. Yuriko explains, “Unlike injected gas, this produces a creamy, long-lasting fizz.”

The three core wines produced at Rita Farm & Winery are a sparkling Chardonnay, a red Merlot (which is uncommon in Hokkaido), and a white Sauvignon Blanc.

From left: Masato, Yuriko, and two trainees

The wine shop is located within the farm grounds

(Provided by Rita Farm & Winery)

Rita Farm & Winery
1824 Noboricho, Yoichi Town, Hokkaido, Japan (Winery)
2016 Noboricho, Yoichi Town, Hokkaido, Japan (Misawa No. 2 Vineyards)
Tel.: 0135-23-8805

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