Creating exquisite sake depends not only on the craft of the brewer, but on the quality of rice and water as well. Here we turn to Gohyakumangoku, the locally grown rice we use for Kokuryu sake, and whose journey from spring to fall we will now follow.
Ono City in the eastern part of Fukui Prefecture is situated in a rich natural environment surrounded by mountains. One of Japan's largest producers of Gohyakumangoku, Ono is famous for the quality of its rice. Kokuryu's purchases come from the Aji no Sato Production Cooperative in the district of Adoso Jitoho.
The rice fields of Adoso Jitoho are irrigated by the Akane River. The Akane isn't large, but its waters, which originate on the ridges of Mt. Genanpo, are sparkling and pure. Snow lingers on the peaks near its source as late as May, when the new season's rice is being planted. The snowmelt is filtered as it percolates through the ground. These waters become the Akane, whose nutrient-rich flow is a source of life for not only the rice, but a great variety of flora and fauna such as fireflies and killifish. Ono, known as the City of Water, is famous for this beautiful resource, and the cooperative and others have nurtured it for ages.
As for the land, it is blessed with rich soil. The best soil for rice is said to be tough and clayey, so rice stalks can set their roots firmly enough to absorb nourishment and withstand the strong winds rushing down from the mountains.
Late April to early May is the season for planting. On a sunny day when soil conditions are prime, farmers in the cooperative are out from early morning, loading rice seedlings into pickup trucks. Incubated in greenhouses, the verdant seedlings have short, firm roots. They require delicate care. Farmers carefully control temperatures in the greenhouse environments, giving the seedlings just the right amounts of water and fertilizer. The constant care required is not unlike that for newborn babies.
“We can't control the weather or temperature,” says Mr. Shinohara, director of the cooperative. “All we can do is adapt to the conditions of the moment.”
By turns severe and gentle, nature allies with man to create sake rice. In these small fields tucked between mountain ravines, Kokuryu's sake making has already begun.