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Midlife Reinvention : Mastering Winemaking
in Nagano

Well-known essayist and painter Toyoo Tamamura and his wife live in Nagano Prefecture, where they run a winery and restaurant. He talks about his new life and work styles, the life lessons he’s discovered during the second half of his life, and his plans.

T oyoo Tamamura is a noted 73-year-old essayist and painter who moved from Tokyo to Karuizawa when he was 38, and then to Tomi in Nagano Prefecture at the age of 45. He says the impulse behind the move to Tomi was a serious illness during a yakudoshi, or traditionally unlucky year. After this experience, his wife Saeko proposed that they “live in the countryside, leisurely, while growing vegetables.”

At Saeko’s request they first grew vegetables and herbs on the three acres of land they’d bought, but they also planted five hundred grapevines on the slopes of the remaining land to make wine for themselves. The couple visited various wineries, got advice from experts, and kept learning through trial and error. Despite being almost completely self-taught and growing the grapes themselves, they bottled their first vintage after just six years, collaborating with a winery that took care of the actual winemaking and bottling. “The feeling when I first tasted it was beyond words,” Tamamura recalls.

After that, they participated in a winery construction project and brought the project to Tomi. They opened up their fields to winery technicians so they could gain experience at tasks such as preparing fields for growing grapes. The plan came to a standstill halfway through, but the fields and youthful, passionate winemakers remained.

“I realized that the only way was for me to do it,” says Tamamura. He busied himself gathering capital, persuading his wife, and obtaining a liquor production license in 2003. He also opened the Villa d’Est Gardenfarm and Winery.

The myriad choices one can make during the winemaking process have a subtle effect on how the wine turns out. Tamamura says that what is fascinating is the depth of it. He was told it would be impossible to grow grapes unless the area had dry, drainable land as in France, but he thought outside the box and challenged fixed ideas. The winery’s third vintage, produced in 2005, was served at the 2008 G8 Summit in Toyako, and won the highest gold medal in a domestic wine competition with its fifth vintage (2007), The winery’s star was rising.

The winery’s restaurant, as well as Arc-en-Vigne, a winery management school Tamamura established in 2015, are also doing great.

“You can succeed in agriculture if you try,” Tamamura insists. “Even if you make some mistakes, plants are stronger than you think, so there’s a high possibility they will thrive in the end. Winemaking is the same. Everyone has their own tricks of the trade, and there’s surely a way of winemaking that works in all sorts of areas.”

According to Tamamura, he is not someone who makes a detailed plan and follows it. “When something happens, I first move and hit a wall,” Tamamura says with a laugh. “Even if it’s a wide path and you don’t know where you should go, you can find that out by hitting a wall. That’s how I live.

“Currently there is talk of creating lodging facilities in the village,” he continues. “If possible, we want to have vacation rentals, and have tourists come to the village and foster communication and exchange.”
“The number of vacant houses is also rising, so I’d be happy if the younger generation uses this to create something new.”

Tamamura drastically changed his way of life in middle age, and from the outside he appears to have faced many hurdles. However, in his mind the thought that “if today was fun, tomorrow will definitely be fun” was always present. His attitude of enjoying the moment is sure to continue generating ideas and inventions, and shaping his life.