Nobuko Takemura, co-founder and president of VinVie Winery & Cidery in Matsukawa, Nagano Prefecture, knows from more than 20 years working on her family’s third-generation apple orchard that farming is hard work. Yet, looking out from the steps of VinVie’s cidery and taproom, over the orchards and farms that roll out to meet snow-capped mountains, she also believes there is no better place to be.

“Matsukawa is really fun,” Takemura says of the town and region that has been her home since 1990. “It’s beautiful. It’s a great place to live and work.”

Pastoral and picturesque as it may be, Matsukawa is in trouble. Like many rural areas, Matsukawa’s population is decreasing, a reflection of Japan’s larger demographic shift and overall exodus to larger urban areas. This means not only fewer local customers for her farm, but also fewer growers to continue the region’s centuries-old apple-growing tradition — in 2018, Nagano Prefecture produced nearly 19% of the nation’s apple harvest, second only to Aomori Prefecture’s whopping 58%.