From left: Grapes are carefully placed in harvesting crates to prevent crushing. Ito picks some of the last grapes of the season, late in autumn. In November, the leaves turn yellow on vines for white wine, and red on vines for red wine. Staff from throughout the Camel Coffee Group help with the final quality check of all grapes going into wine production.

The Camel Farm Challenge
―Bringing Hokkaido Wine to the World: 2

Photography by Shogo Oizumi
Text by Tomoko Tsuyuki

Tilling the fields, crafting the wine, building a future
The fields at Camel Farm Winery have produced wine grapes for over four decades. Thanks to scrupulous management of the vines and vigilant monitoring of the ripening process as harvest approaches, the fruit is of superb quality, while the winemaking facility combines proven Italian traditions with the latest technology. Maintaining this fusion of so many critical elements is the day-to-day task of two teams—one in charge of grape cultivation and the other of winemaking—led by winery manager Ai Ito. All 10 team members are committed to the shared goal of producing world-class wines that are clean, safe, and eloquently expressive of the terroir of the vineyard.

Left: The harvesting is done entirely by hand. Pickers work from small carts that move sideways so they can stay seated as they move along the rows of vines. Right: When the day’s harvesting is done, it’s time to clean the shears.

“The quality of the grapes is far more important than the quantity,” says Ito. “We carefully manage the shoots and cultivate the optimum number of clusters per vine; if we want to make a clean, clear wine, we can’t allow a single diseased fruit. During harvest we closely inspect the picked grapes, sort them by hand, then take them right away into the processing facility. Selection and speed are essential for an aromatic, elegant product.”

Left: The winemaking facility is adjacent to the vineyard, so the fruit arrives there and processing begins without loss of freshness. Proximity is a vital factor in the quality of the wines. Right: On arrival at the facility, the grapes undergo a final quality check.

The vineyard is planted on 16.2 hectares of south-facing hillside. The 10 grape varieties selected for cultivation there include Kerner, Chardonnay, Bacchus, Pinot Noir, Regent, Blaufrankisch, and Zweigeltrebe. Fermentation methods and the blend of varieties used change from year to year depending on the condition of the harvested fruit, with constant adjustments to ensure a delicious product. At all times, showcasing the local terroir is a priority.

The state-of-the-art winemaking facility has 45 temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks for fermenting the grape juice, including six charmat tanks. They can produce up to about 150,000 bottles. There’s no letup in the monitoring during the fermentation process.

Camel Farm Winery possesses cutting-edge equipment for measuring sugar, acidity, and pH levels. The results are compiled and sent for detailed analysis to a laboratory in Riccardo Cotarella’s home country, Italy. Every step, from harvest to bottling, is timed in accordance with this data, which has proven an invaluable asset for the entire operation.

All data compiled by the on-site lab is sent to Italy for expert analysis.

Copper pipes on the cellar wall carry cold and warm water, regulated to maintain a constant temperature of 16 degrees Celsius and humidity of 70 percent without having to blow air through the room.

The finished product is sent out to liquor retailers, wine distributors, and stores that are part of the Camel Coffee Group. When it’s harvest time, staff from group subsidiaries arrive to help from all over Japan.

Left: Winter preparations: vines are pruned and laid down beneath the snow to keep them from freezing. Right: The fields in midwinter, with the vines entirely buried under snow.

In this way the same team handles the entire process from harvest to sale. “What we’re doing is building the foundations for Camel Farm Winery, looking ahead to the future 50 or 100 years from now,” says Ito. “Our aim is to be a sustainable winery.”

Left: Racks of sparkling wine produced by the fermenting-in-bottle method. Bottles are rotated every day in a practice called remuage. Right: Yet another check at the end of the bottling and labeling process.

The word tsunagu, meaning to connect or link, is printed on the label and the muselet, symbolizing the human connections that gave birth to this winery.


[Continue to Part 3]

Camel Farm Winery
0120-934-210 (toll-free in Japan only)
Not open to visitors

This article is an excerpt from Kateigaho International Japan Edition 2020 Spring/Summer.



2021 Spring / Summer

Inside Japan’s West