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.