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04.18.2009

Winemaking as Therapy: Japan's Autistic Winery

When I first started drinking wine, I had all sorts of romantic notions about what winemaking involved. I though of it as a mix of alchemy and poetry and all sorts of other things. Of course, once I learned a lot more about wine, such romantic notions were replaced by a sense of the back-breaking work, long hours, and exacting chemistry that is required to make a decent wine.

But no matter what Ive learned about wine, I never would have thought of winemaking as therapeutic. Sure, the Italians have their prisoners make wine as some sort of rehabilitation, but I was surprised and delighted when I read about a winery in Japan that is staffed by autistic and developmentally disabled workers, for whom the process of winemaking appears to be quite therapeutic.

Who would have guessed that the repetitive, detail oriented, manual labor involved in winemaking would be just the sort of work that appeals to the autistic, but apparently in addition to simply being enjoyable, it has provided a framework for some to make real advances.

The story of Coco Farms & Winery as both a winery and an institution for helping marginalized members of society goes back over 50 years. In its current incarnation it seems to be a labor of love for winemaker and steward Bruce Gutlove, who visited 20 years ago as a consulting winemaker and then never left.

Next time I'm in Japan, I'm going to try and get my hands on some of the wine, but regardless of whether it's any good, the story is wonderful.

Read the full piece on CNN.Com.


Comments (4)

Arthur wrote:
04.19.09 at 12:08 AM

I saw that. Is it more than a gimmick?

Dylan wrote:
04.19.09 at 8:01 AM

I definitely felt the therapeutic effects while working the rows on Tin Cross. It's odd to say, since it was such intensive labor, but within the tedium of action you become hypnotized. Your mind begins to enter this zone of harmony where you're no longer thinking about the time of day or the direct task. All the work continues as if it's second nature and your mind wanders through the rest of the rows at peace. I highly recommend it to anyone who feels anxious or stressed, a 12 hour day in the vineyard cleanses the soul and sullies the shell.

04.19.09 at 4:37 PM

It has long been known that persons suffering from autism can often find great satisfaction in doing repetitive tasks.

The work that these people perform in Japan is not in the least bit gimmicky to them. The article does not speak to the funding, but assuming that much of it is gov't funded, as it would be here under our Americans With Disabilities Act, it is possible that what they produce might actually help offset some of the costs of their care.

This is not a pure capitalistic enterprise since it is both a business of sorts and also a living situation. But, in a world where so many autistic adults are simply warehoused in group homes, this setup sounds like it has utility for some.

If it is true that one in 166 people is autistic, and that we, as a society, are just now cottoning to that fact and will now face rising costs to care for such folks, then ideas like this are well worth knowing about and investigating.

Mati wrote:
04.23.09 at 4:02 PM

The wines aren't bad either - I visited Bruce Gutlove at Coco 4 years ago and its a truly unique experience. Bruce is a great guy and doing some amazing things there.

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