～Choya Umeshu story !!～～チョーヤ梅酒ストーリ～ Vol. 4 FINAL !!15 Sep 2015
After witnessing the marvel of its transformation into a liquor I was keen to dive in deeper, to journey to the source, to see the origin of the fruit. It was time to visit the ume orchards in Wakayama!
The next day began with a pleasant 2-hour drive south to Tanabe, through the lush Wakayama hills. It was readily evident that this was ume country with ume trees sprouting from everywhere including narrow terraced orchards that wrapped around many of the hillsides. The Wakayama region accounts for 60% of Japan’s ume production and it’s fruit is considered to be the finest quality too.
After a brief lunch stop at Shirahama, a well-known summer beach escape, we were ready for our trip to the ume orchard. But first we had to rendezvous with our host in Tanabe, Mr. Hideyuki Kasahara from JA Kinan, the local branch of the Japan Agriculture Cooperative. On the way to the farm Kasahara san proudly gave us a tour of a large farmers market building that he was responsible for coordinating. Local produce is a source of immense pride and satisfaction for Japanese farmers and it always delights me to see the care taken in displaying the local delicacies, I always find I want to buy everything!
The drive to the orchard takes us deep into the beautiful hilly countryside surrounding the Tanabe township. The road follows a pristine rocky mountain stream as we wind our way upward. I can easily tell by the pure lushness of the surrounding vegetation that this area seems good for growing anything!
Kasahara San had chosen to take us to an organic ume farm; its fruit is used in the new CHOYA Organic Umeshu. The farm is owned and under the loving care of husband and wife team, Minoru and Hisako Tanaka. I instantly felt at peace in their company. I find there is an inherent calm about people who make their living from the land. Their office was a beautiful lush hillside with a majestic view, a gentle breeze, birdsong and sun on their faces. Their chosen lifestyle was hard work but its rewards were apparent, they were happy, fit and healthy, a reflection of the fruit that they grew.
The Tanaka’s organic farm consists of 1.7 hectares, holding 350 ume trees - a good tree producing around 200kg of fruit per season. Under their watchful eye they produce premium ume fruit from their 20 year old trees.
I was astounded when they were actually apologetic because they felt the fruit did not “look” perfect. Looking at trees and the organic fruit that hung on the branches I couldn’t understand their regret, but apparently because there are no pesticides or fertilizers used, the fruit wasn’t considered aesthetically perfect and generally smaller in size. I assured them the fruit looked perfect to me.
Being surrounded with all this wonderful fruit I was naively excited to pluck one off and try it. There was a little laughter and I was politely informed that the ume is not consumed fresh; it’s way too sour and hard. Ume fruit is always preserved, macerated, cooked, dried or salted before consumption.
My CHOYA experience was nearly at an end, with reluctance, we left the Tanaka’s wonderful hillside orchard. As the car wound its way back into town I sat with a can of ume juice in my hand and sipped it’s sweet nectar and I was happy I could take a part of this ume paradise with me.