It was a cold, early December morning. I caught a bullet train from Ueno Station heading to Niigata prefecture. After about 3 hours ride by train, I arrived at Uchino station where I was met by one of the winery drivers who took me via shuttle bus to the winery.
It took about 15 minutes to travel from the train station to the hotel where I would be staying the night. The hotel "Vine Spa" is an accommodation facility with a hot spring spa and is located in the center of the Cave D'occi Winery. The wooden material based structure had a warm ambience. It felt very nice especially on a cold rainy day like this. I took off my shoes at the entrance, looking for a pair of slippers but couldn't find any. Wow! They have radiant floor heating and beautiful hardwood floors!
It took three years to develop the geo-thermal spa, which heats its water 1000m below the surface in a unique volcanically active fissure that comes relatively close to the surface. The water has a bit of viscosity and brings up various minerals which are great for the skin.
"Stay with us, and listen to the grapes grow"
There are four wineries in this area, two restaurants, a bakery, and a wine shop. The founders started out 20 years ago with the hopes of making the area as inviting to wine lovers as the Napa Valley is in the USA; a place where people can stay and enjoy great wines, foods and scenery.
It was already late afternoon when I arrived and I was starving. The receptionist at the hotel recommended two restaurants in the area, so rather than finish a quick lunch inside the hotel, I went out looking for something more unique. A good smell of a wood chip pizza oven invited me to this pretty restaurant.
The inside of the restaurant somehow reminded me of an old Japanese house. When I asked about the architecture, the staff told me that it was built by the famous German architect Karl Bengs who lives in Japan and who is known for using the remains of old Japanese houses in the construction of his architectural designs. This quaint little restaurant was built using materials from an old Japanese house and a temple in Niigata. Some older homes in the Japanese countryside are left abandoned, so this is a really elegant way to recycle these still useful materials.
I picked a glass of Milieu Blanc 2013 to go with my lunch. This Chardonnay based delicately flavored white wine had a refreshing aftertaste and should go well with any meal. It would make a fine daily wine.
I woke up early the next morning and went for a walk. The weather was unstable; it rained, cleared up and then hailed, all within an hour or so during my strolling. I guess it was not my lucky day. Anyway, the place was pretty big and had quite a few different kinds of vegetables being cultivated along with the grapes. The veggies I had last night must have came from here!
Workers were pruning the vineyard in the rain. I forced myself to talk to an elderly man working in the vineyard and asked him what grapes they were working on. He said he was a part-timer and had no idea as there were so many kinds planted in the area. Yea, right without leaves and grapes, they all looked the same to me, too. We both laughed.
It wasn't a good day for strolling since my feet kept catching in the mud, but if the weather were good, I could tell that all four of these wineries (Cave D'occi, Cantina Zio Setto, Domaine Chaud and Fermier) were located within a good distance of each other.
Had I had time more time (always my struggle), I would have made reservations at each of the four wineries for a winery tour of each, but unfortunately, I had to leave early.
I couldn't help thinking how nice this place must be on a sunny summer day with lots of greens and grapes hanging on from the vines. And I definitely would need more than a one day trip to fully enjoy this place. I heard that there will be few more wineries starting up in the area within the next few years. I shall visit here again and see how it develops.