Tokyo Jizake Strolling (New Initiative)

By Ryuji Takahashi

When Japanese sake is introduced overseas, sake is often explained in terms of wine. When I’m requested to organize a sake seminar overseas, I also explain sake in terms of wine. However, not all aspects of sake could be explained in the same terms as wine, as there are many differences. Needless to say, the ingredients are different, and while is produced by simple fermentation, while sake is produced by multiple sequential fermentation. The difference is evident in the ingredients and brand classification method. If sake is produced from rice, only the production region and variant is recognized; while wine produced from the same variant and production region are classified by the altitudes of the vineyard.
Citing the high-end wine producer Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) as an example, wine produced from grapes of the same pinot noir variant in the same region is still labeled as different wine brands due to the difference in high/low altitudes of the vineyard. Since the difference in altitude can generate differences in soil components, etc., wine produced at a lower altitude than the vineyard producing the high-end DRC will be priced slightly lower as the brand Romanee St. Vivant to distinguish the brand by the altitude of the vineyard. In DRC’s vineyard, the plot used to produce Romanée-conti constitutes only ten percent of the vineyard.
In this way, Yasuhiro Shibuya, sommelier and CEO of the Grand Cru Wine Company Tokyo took on the challenge to produce the highest quality of sake from the same rice variant in the same region by selecting only one rice field with the terroir in mind in terms of wine terminology. Shibuya recruited master sake brewer Iwao Takahashi from the Kanemasu Brewery (Shibata city, Niigata prefecture), a renowned local sake producer whom he hit it off with and agreed to help revitalize the local economy together by producing their sake brand “Domaine Takahashi.” The term Domaine refers to a small-scale winery using grapes carefully grown by a producer with thorough consideration of the weather, climate, growing conditions, etc., to produce wine.
In that sense, master sake brewer Takahashi also produces Kanemasu Brewery’s original brand of sake “Koshi-tanrei” from sake rice grown in Niigata prefecture with his thorough knowledge of regional characteristics, close attention to the quality of ingredients, and brews sake with a stoic attitude. Therefore, Kanemasu Brewery could be considered the Domaine of Japan. Shibuya chose his sake rice field for its slope offering good scenery, similar to a vineyard. “Domaine Takahashi” was completed by crowd funding and delivered to participants. Would the first sip deliver the beautiful rice fields of Shibata city in the eyes of the consumer? I won’t know until I taste it myself. However, this branding method deserves attention as a new test case to revitalize the local economy and rebuild sake breweries in my opinion.