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The Wine-What!? site has a report by Kaori Isono on a crowdfunding project supported by maverick Japanese businessman Takafumi Horie, where backers get to participate in the creation of a junmai daiginjō sake right from the start – and by “start” they mean transplanting rice seedlings.

The brewing is happening at the Daishinshu sake brewery in Nagano Prefecture, and uses yet another “phantom rice”, this time Zenmon Nishiki (全紋錦).

The Sake-Tsukuri Project was kicked off in 2017 by Kōta Fujī of Koh, Inc., supposedly on the strength of an invitation from Horie to make sake right from the rice growing stage as demand for both sake and sake-specific rice was increasing. The curious names for the sake, Sōteinai (想定内, “within expectation”) and Sōteigai (想定外, “outside/beyond expectation”) are also “classic Horie” according to the article.

It all started in 2017, when a group of people with links to Daishinshu, including Horie, signed up to transplant rice seedlings from the nursery into the fields, harvest the grown rice and take classes for tasting sake to be sent to appraisal. The Zenmon Nishiki “phantom rice” grown by Kentarō Yagisawa, a farmer under contract to produce rice for Daishinshu, was harvested by the group in October 2017. Daishinshu then spared no effort in brewing a sake good enough to be sent to national appraisal and international competitions.

[Interestingly, the three examples the article gives of appraisals/competitions are the venerable National New Sake Appraisal (officially the “Japan Sake Awards”, held by the Japanese National Tax Agency, the International Wine Challenge (IWC) sake division, and the new French competition Kura Master.]

The sake is listed as having five distinctive characteristics:

  1. Made from Zenmon Nishiki grown under contract: compared to “the” sake rice Yamada Nishiki, Zenmon Nishiki lacks smoothness, but in a good way. It has much more complexity, which allows it to pair with and make the most out of many different foods.
  2. Milling ratio 38% for kōji-mai and 40% for kake-mai: similar to the milling ratios of competition sake, going right down to the shinpaku starch core.
  3. Yeast from the brewery: the yeast used is a strain kept by the brewery, known to produce a rich and floral yet mellow aroma.
  4. Fukuro-shibori: sake is “pressed” without pressure, allowed to drip from suspended bags directly into storage bottles.
  5. Muroka genshu: the resulting clear sake is not fined/charcoal filtered or diluted, so keeps its original flavour. Despite being undiluted, as one of Daishinshu’s best products it’s extremely drinkable.

The resulting sake was tasted on 3 April 2018, divided up by when it emerged: the arabashiri that first flows freely from the suspended bags, the nakadori that drips out afterwards, and finally the last drops of seme. Sake is not normally divided up in this way, but this time the sake from the tank was divided into 30 bottles from 30 different time points. The middle nakadori range is supposed to have the best balance of flavour and aroma, and the project members were able to taste it fresh from the tank, before pasteurisation and without fining.

The 30 fractions were assessed by the owner, tōji and staff of Daishinshu, farmer Yagisawa who grew the Zenmon Nishiki rice, plus other members of the proejct including Horie (who was making lots of notes while tasting). They scored each fraction according to how well it “met expectations” (Sōteinai) or was “unexpected” (Sōteigai). Isono participated in the tasting (although she didn’t get a vote as she isn’t a member of the project) and remarked that every fraction was different.

The winning sake was bottled, and announced at a press conference on 20 July 2018 by Horie and Marie Chiba, owner of the sake bar GEM by Moto. After listening to them banter casually, the attendees got to taste the sake in wine glasses – Isono rated it as a classic Daishinshu, subtly sweet but not overwhelmingly so, complemented by umami and a rich texture, with characteristic ginjō-ka but not too flamboyant. She particularly recommends it to wine drinkers. Three IWC award-winning Daishinshu sake were also available for tasting.

Sōteinai was entered in the IWC sake division, and won a silver medal. Although the project is over, the remaining sake is supposed to be used to make ume-shu, and Horie was overheard at the party talking about ageing… so it might not be quite over yet!