Saltanat Boteu

As a part of the Nippon Foundation internship, the Nippon Foundation Fellows made a mid-December trip to Hokkaido, Niseko town, the place famous with its powder snow that attracts hundreds of tourists loving winter sports. Niseko town is a well-known place among skiers and snowboarders from around the world and particularly Australia, as they comprise 90 percent of the tourists coming to the town. Because of high quality infrastructure and convenient and tourist friendly surrounding developed in the town, the number of tourists to the town and its skiing resorts is raising every year, which is recently became an issue for the conditions for skiing and environment in the area as a whole. Along with that, typical to many seasonal tourist destinations, Niseko town encounters an issue of lack of tourists in other seasons. Local people, including business community, pay much attention to find solutions for the above-mentioned issues. One of such initiatives supported by the local government and citizens is Niseko Winery.

The winery has a history of 15 years, during which it went through several steps to turn to a winery. According to Mr. Yasunori Homma, CEO and founder of the company, the Niseko Winery started to operate as a winery from 2009, when it acquired a liquor retail license. However, the actual land development was launched in 2005. During that time, remembers Mr. Homma, it was a bush land that he and his small team, including his wife, Mrs. Mayumi Homma, developed into cultivation land and planted grapes in May 2008. The first harvest they got was in 2010, but at that time, the company did not have winery licence yet. As Mr. Homma said, it was a long journey, during which they put much effort to acquire the license and produce organic sparkling wine. The winery got the licence in 2016 and 2019 was the fourth wine making since then. Currently, the winery has three vineyards of 4 hectares in total.

During our visit, Mr. Homma emphasised that the winery is aimed on both economic growth and environmental protection. One of the reasons to create a winery was to attract more tourists to Niseko in other seasons than winter, when people come to skiing and snowboarding. The Niseko’s scenery is quite beautiful and its nature is rich and diverse. According to Mr. Homma, he wants tourists to witness beauty of Niseko in every season. Therefore, the idea to create winery came up. To support this idea, the wine from the winery can be bought only in Niseko, particularly in Niseko Town View Plaza retail sales corner and in the winery itself.

Although climate conditions in Niseko are not the easiest for wine production, the company is taking this challenge and aims to produce high quality product to diversify local economy, which is very much based on agriculture, the products of low added value. According to Mr. Homma, being the only winery in Niseko, the town that was chosen as “the environmental model city” and “Sustainable development goals future city,” much effort is put to produce high quality organic product not using any chemical synthetic insecticides and fungicides. The winery uses organically approved materials to keep the license of producing organically grown grapes and wine renewed every year.

The difficulty also lays in that Niseko has an annual snowfall of 16 meters. The snow piles up to 2 meters causing physical damage to vineyards, thus, shortening lifespan of approximately 10 years. Having all these challenges, Mr. Homma is very positive about his business and motivated to produce the wine. One should also emphasize that the wine produced in the winery is the only organic sparkling wine in Japan, which increases the demand for the product.

According to Mr. Homma, the idea laying in the creation of the winery in Niseko also comes from his passion to skiing. In my opinion, that shows the human and kind worldview of Mr. Homma implemented in his business as well. People and contribution to the well-being of society, particularly future generations drives the work in the winery. Moreover, the winery gets huge support from local community consisting of elderly, students, youth and even children. People volunteer several times a year to enjoy the time in nature, work at open air, learn new skills, expand their knowledge and contribute to the local economic development. In the recent years, local high school students planted 1300 vines in the vineyards of the winery. They also came during harvesting time, and they harvested approximately 800 fields out of their own-planted vines. Sharing the knowledge, Mr. Homma also invited the students to winery last year to enjoy grape juice before fermentation.

The creativity that the winery implements in its work is striking. According to Mr. Homma, they organize a treasure hunt type game for children aged 6-10 years; so that they can collect grapes left after adults collected all visible harvest on the vineyards. They can find approximately 16 kilos of unpicked harvest during the game. Along with that, Mrs. Homma writes books for children and has a huge interest in books. She has a small library with children books she created herself at the winery and holds readings time to time inviting small readers to her library.

The work of Mr. and Mrs. Homma and Niseko’s local community inspires with its creativity, high values and motivation to contribute to the sustainable development of the area. It is also an evidence that uniting people are able to make changes that are necessary both for local community and ecosystem as well as for the planet.