Road Trip Diaries #2: Nakaizu Hills Winery (In vino, veritas)
Wine made in Japan
Many people think of France, Spain, Italy, California or, more recently, Australia and Chile, when thinking about wine, and Japan is often thought of as a place where you make Japanese sake or beer. But, did you know that Japan has a winery in the Nakaizu area of Shizuoka prefecture?
Nakaizu Winery Hills is about a two hour drive from Tokyo, nestled in the rolling hills of the central Izu peninsula. Hidden on a country road off about 10 km from Shuzenji station and the Shimoda Highway (National Road 136), the winery sits on a hill overlooking a broad valley. The central building is designed like a standard European winery, and, even with Mt. Fuji looming close in the distance, it is easy to lose yourself and think you are in Napa Valley or Bordeaux. The winery is owned and operated by entertainment giant Shidax.
Although Nakaizu Winery Hills is something of a well-kept secret, it is a modestly popular tourist spot in its own right, with about 35,000 people visiting the plantation every year.
The Winery Grounds
The winery grounds, with Mt. Fuji in the background
Merlot grapes being grown for the upcoming harvest
The winery is dominated by the main building (the "chateau"), which houses the winery operations, a couple of restaurants, shops and a hotel.
The best place to start is on the roof and work your way down. You can take the elevator to the top, then you need to take one flight of stairs to get to the roof deck itself. The roof, unsurprisingly, affords spectacular views of the winery grounds. There is a small belfry where you can go up and actually ring the bell – and be careful…it doesn’t take much to trip the clapper (the part of the bell that actually strikes and makes the noise).
Travel downward, the two restaurants on the second and third floors are generally OK, but there is a bit of a tourist-trap feel to them. The prices are reasonable, but the food offerings themselves don’t stand out in any way. Naturally, wine is available (and recommended) as an accompanying beverage on almost every meal.
Obviously, if you are driving, you will want to skip the alcoholic wines and go with the non-alcoholic choices on the menu.
The main floor has shops where tourists can purchase wine made on the premises and other wine or grape-related products. There is grape juice available for minors, and also wine-infused cakes and pastries. A small tasting table is available for those who may want to try before they buy.
Visitors are encouraged to visit the wine cellar in the B1 floor of the winery. Kept at a very cool 15c, the darkened cellar holds wine samples from each year going back to 1981. A few unopened wine bottles from the 1860s are also on display. A tourist can also learn a bit about the wine making process and there are graphics outlining the wine different methods needed to make white wine as opposed to red and rose wine.
Visitrs are likewise invited onto the grounds of grape fields themselves (something not many wineries allow, incidentally). In the fields, each row of grapes is meticulously identified and tended by ground staff. One staffer told me as he was tending the Merlot grapes, “I take care of these grapes as if they were my own children. I have worked here for six years, and I remember each batch.” That’s serious, professional dedication.
Despite being hidden away in the hills of Shizuoka, getting to the Nakaizu winery is not that hard. Situated two hours from either Tokyo or Nagoya, you leave the Tomei Expressway at the Numazu Okamiya （沼津岡宮） interchange, go through central Numazu, then get on National Road 136. Getting off 136 at the Shuzenji （修善寺） interchange, get on to route 12 and go for about 10 km. A Google maps link is included in this article.
Touring the entire winery and staying for a meal will take about two to three hours. Factor in the drive itself and you have a nice road trip where you can get out of the hustle of Tokyo and enjoy a truly unexpected treat in rural Shizuoka.
One note, however...all signage and literature at the winery is in Japanese. Most tourists are domestic, and there are very few English speakers on site. That said, we are talking about wine, and if there is one thing that can leap the language barrier, it is good food and drink!
Google Maps Directions (based on driving from Shibuya Station/Tokyo): https://www.google.co.jp/maps/dir/%E6%B8%8B%E8%B0%B7%E9%A7%85%EF%BC%88%E6%9D%B1%E4%BA%AC%EF%BC%89/%E3%83%9B%E3%83%86%E3%83%AB%E3%83%AF%E3%82%A4%E3%83%8A%E3%83%AA%E3%83%BC%E3%83%92%E3%83%AB,+%E3%80%92410-2501+%E9%9D%99%E5%B2%A1%E7%9C%8C%E4%BC%8A%E8%B1%86%E5%B8%82+%E4%B8%8B%E7%99%BD%E5%B2%A91434email@example.com,139.029815,10z/data=!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x60188b5789e3c191:0x98dadeb0d2e1d297!2m2!1d139.701334!2d35.658517!1m5!1m1!1s0x6019eb1019fb34dd:0xd75ef4b7dcbc867!2m2!1d138.989832!2d34.977459?hl=ja