The valley around Urasa is famous for the production of koshihikari rice but in amongst all the rice fields is a small area dedicated to grapes. Welcome to the Echigo Winery.
There are mountains not too far off but it is pretty flat around here, and as a result the buildings of the winery are easy to identify. They all stand out with reddy-brown roofs and whitewashed walls with the beams showing through. As you drive closer you start to see the stands of vines all around.
The winery itself is split into two halves: the working winery and the restaurant. The winery has a large showroom/shop and tasting room on the ground floor. They have all the current vintages on sale and plenty of other tasty treats including locally produced raisins and dried blueberries. The staff are happy for you to sample the wine and with quite a range on offer, you could be there for sometime. They grow 7 different varieties of grapes which are either bottled as varietals or end up blended.
There are also big picture windows that open onto the inner workings of the winery. Lots of complicated looking machines and plenty of shining stainless steel (as well as some wooden casks for those looking for a more classic look.) If you are there at the right time of year, you can see the next vintage in preparation. Down in the cellar are the fermentation tanks and in an interesting twist for this snowy region you can see their built-in cooling system. They fill the walls with snow that slides off the roof and this keeps the lower parts of the building at an even temperature throughout the muggy summer.
Over the road is the restaurant, Budo no Hana. Similar to the winery, it is spacious and light. As you would expect there is plenty of wine on offer and suggestions on which wine would best compliment each meal. The restaurant has an innovative menu with an eclectic mix of dishes many with a European influence, all cooked in an open kitchen. The top range of the menu is slightly more pricey than your average restaurant but a couple of thousand yen will get you an outstanding meal, and the cheaper options are all fantastic too.There is a gelato shop attached to the restaurant if you fancy a light dessert, and with a small farmers’ market in the parking lot and a large park close by, there is plenty to keep the kids amused or to help walk off all that wine.