Yoichi Sagra: Feasting in Hokkaido wine country

Midwinter in Hokkaido: Daytime temperatures hover well below zero degrees Celsius. Even in the relatively mild climate of Yoichi at the base of the rugged Shakotan Peninsula, snow blankets the countryside so thickly it’s hard to imagine you’ve arrived in one of the foremost wine-growing areas in this island prefecture.

In fact, it’s whisky rather than wine that draws most casual visitors to Yoichi. The port town is the site of the historic Nikka distillery founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, whose life story was popularized in the NHK TV drama “Massan” (2014). Almost 10 years later, the guided tours of the coal-fired stills and quaint, wood-beamed storehouses remain a major attraction.

Farther inland, though, lie fertile fields and fruit farms that produce more apples and grapes than anywhere else in Hokkaido. Yoichi also boasts more than a dozen wineries, most notably Domaine Takahiko, one of a handful of producers in the country that hold a coveted five-star rating from the Japan Winery Awards for its prized (and all organic) Pinot noirs.

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