The Taste and Beauty of Japanese Shine Muscat

This seedless table grape with a light green skin that does not need to be peeled before eating (Japanese consumers generally remove the skin due to it being thicker in domestically-grown grapes) is characterized by its juicy, sweet, thick flesh and unique refreshing aroma, and is known as the 'Queen of Muscat'.

Scenery of Suzaka City, Nagano prefecture (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

A new level of delicious that even amazed grape growers

Yoshiyuki Okaki is the owner of the Okaki Farm, located in Nagano Prefecture's northern Suzuka City. The farm was established during the Taisho Period (1912-1926) and for the past 50 years, Okaki has been engaged in cultivating grapes. With his wife Reiko, who takes care of general office affairs, and son Hiroyuki, who is in charge of branding and sales, Okaki runs his farm with an eye for producing quality grapes.

In 2005, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), he was one of the first to start trial cultivation of the Shine Muscat, a cultivar that resulted from a cross of the Akitsu-21 and Hakunan varieties. After the Shine Muscat was officially registered the following year, Okaki began growing the grape in earnest. He recalls his first encounter with this new Muscat grape well.

Farm representative of Okaki Farm, Mr. Yoshiyuki Okaki (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

"The first time I actually heard about the Shine Muscat was maybe around 2003. Before anyone had seriously started to grow them, I had my first taste at the Nagano Fruit Tree Experiment Station. When I saw it, I thought it was smaller than other grapes on the market at the time. It appeared yellowish green and fully ripe. I popped it in my mouth and, wow: I was so impressed by its sweetness and aroma — it was like no other grape I had tasted to then!

Okaki Farm beautiful Shine Muscats (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

The Shine Muscat is also attractive for its slightly firm, crispy texture. It excelled in every aspect like no other grape did, and I thought right then that I'd like to grow it myself to really bring out its best."

Nagano prefecture, scenery of mountains (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

The Nagano soil and climate behind the ultimate in sweetness

Nagano Prefecture is the leading producer of the Shine Muscat in terms of area under cultivation and volume. Like the Okaki Farm, many growers are located in Suzuka City. Nestled in a fan-shaped valley with good drainage and underground water fed by the Minami-Shigakogen highlands, Suzuka is particularly suited to viticulture.

Okaki Farm (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Another reason for the area's grape growing suitability is the large day time and nighttime temperature differences. Being at such a high altitude, Suzuka's nighttime temperature drops considerably lower than what it experiences during the day; this inactivates respiration and aspiration, minimizing the consumption of the stored sugar in the vines. Additionally, despite the low temperatures the city experiences, very little snow accumulates in winter, making it possible to grow the grapes in greenhouses during the colder months.

Greenhouse of Okaki Farm (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

At present, around 70% of the 0.65ha (1.6 acres) dedicated to greenhouse cultivation and 90% of the some 1.4ha (3.5 acres) of open area is set aside for growing the Shine Muscat. Harvesting in the greenhouses starts around May; the peak harvest time for the grapes grown in the open air is August-September. With the hi-tech cold storage facilities now available, it is possible to ship the grapes right through to mid-January. Not only are they enjoyed in autumn when they are in season; the Shine Muscat has become a popular premium fruit to be enjoyed year-round, finding its way to Christmas dinner tables or as part of the traditional New Year's holiday feast, or bought as a packaged gift for those who have been of assistance in some way, as is the custom.

Shine Muscat grape plucking (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

A beautiful form born from craftsmanship and instinct acquired over many years

In order to grow large, delicious Shine Muscats, the task of thinning is essential. For every 100 grapes, around one third are removed to create space so that those that remain grow big and ensure that each bunch of grapes has an attractive shape to it.

This work requires growers to assess the development of the fruit first before performing the thinning with special scissors and takes up about 40% of the grape-growing process. Determining which grapes are to be removed is a skill that only comes after many years of experience. The way that each fruit grows on the vine differs, so mechanization of this work would be extremely difficult.

Okaki Farm's grape farms (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

At the Okaki Farm, the amount of fruit on each vine is manually reduced in order to deliver the maximum amount of nutrients to each bunch of grapes and produce high quality fruit. Experience and intuition tell the workers which bunches they should leave. While the notion of ‘the bigger the harvest, the more revenue’ may be true, the philosophy at Okaki Farm is undoubtedly to carefully nurture and select each and every grape in order to continue producing delicious fruit of the highest quality.

Okaki Farm's grape farms (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

An uncompromising emphasis on not only the taste, but also on the visual appeal of the grapes perhaps represents an attitude Japanese have long held that values beauty and a mindfulness towards others. This spirit and technical know-how will undoubtedly raise the Shine Muscat to the level of a 'noble grape', catching the attention of a great many more people in future.

Mr. HIroyuki Okaki, in charge of the farm's branding and sales (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Adopting low-carbon agriculture for tomorrow

As touched upon previously, the technique and intuition of skilled workers is required to create the highest quality fruit. Okaki Farm is also enthusiastically introducing new technologies and researching and developing cultivation methods that take the environment into consideration.

Greenhouse of Okaki Farm (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

One of these is a system that more efficiently provides the vines with ample sunlight, an essential part of grape cultivation. It basically involves laying reflective sheeting on the ground and reflecting the sunlight back onto the leaves, more effectively promoting photosynthesis. In addition, when there is insufficient light due to weather conditions, it is supplemented with the use of LEDs, ensuring the stable growth of delicious fruit.

Okaki farm, solar power system by rain protection dual use panels (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Another step Okaki Farm has taken is the switch from heavy fuel oil to renewable solar power for temperature control in the greenhouses. By installing a series of solar panels — that not only generate electricity but also act to protect the vines from the rain — it is realizing the goals of the MAFF low-carbon agriculture recommendations.

Greenhouse cultivation of grapes (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

"When the summer sun is beating down, it gets very hot under the vines," says Okaki. "Using the solar panels to shade them not only is good for the health of the grapes, but it's also better for the workers. Additionally, being able to utilize the electricity we generate on site to charge up machinery or run the heat pumps for the greenhouses helps us financially, with the added bonus of suppressing our CO2 emissions.

Farm representative of Okaki Farm, Mr. Yoshiyuki Okaki and Mr. Hiroyuki Okaki (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

We have been making an effort to utilize renewable energy since 2003. It started as part of a Suzuka City trial initiative, but we now believe that at the same time as making quality grapes, it's extremely important to consider the environment and ensure the longevity of the facility. The city is also making efforts to create organic compost from household waste; we are actually now using it here. I think it's wonderful that the city is doing that kind of thing.''

Grape harvest at Okaki Farm (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Not only is Okaki someone seriously dedicated to making delicious grapes; he is confronting the bigger issue of caring for the environment and striving to change what he can to make a difference the future. The Shine Muscat, bursting with vitality, embodies the single-minded sense of purpose of growers and their willingness to innovate and evolve to deliver exquisitely tasting fruit.

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:

Okaki Farm

Photos: Yuka Uesawa
Text: Orika Uchiumi
Edit: Saori Hayashida

Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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