In the world of wine, we often come across the term `terroir`.
The concept of terroir is quite complex to define, however, it may be simplified as `the ecological conditions (climate, soil) surrounding the region where the grape is grown, and the overall effect it has on the wine that is produced.`
As we are living in the age of globalization, new brewing techniques and superior technology have allowed for the mass production of wine to be shipped across the globe.
In order to compete, smaller wineries have taken to concentrating on brewing wine from grapes under the particular conditions of their regions, thus creating unique, one of a kind wines.
For sake, on the other hand, the concept of terroir may not be incorporated as easily as with wine. Rice, the main ingredient in sake production, undergoes a complex fermentation process, heavily altering its nature. Thus, the unique characteristic of the rice does not have as much an impact on the end product when compared to the importance in relationship between the grape and wine.
However, we, sake brewers in the Niigata prefecture, have a long history of being known for producing sake that reflects the unique characteristics of our region.
The sake from Niigata, labeled the `Kingdom of Jizake (regional sake)`, is especially known for having a unique quality known as `tanrei`.
`Tanrei` may be defined as `delicate, gentle and smooth`.
There are many reasons behind the prestigious reputation we have achieved.
For one, our climate has contributed to the availability of fresh water streaming down snow capped mountains, ideal for sake production.
We have built a school in 1984, providing higher education for sake brewers, teaching brewing techniques and familiarizing them with new technology.
In 1997, we established the Niigata Original Control, the first organization in the nation with the sole objective of sake quality maintenance and overseeing brewing conditions to guarantee that only the best sake is produced.
We are also the organizers of an annual sake event, `Sake-no-jin`, where over 50,000 participants from across the nation gather to enjoy pairings of regional cuisine and sake.
We have worked diligently to distinguish and give meaning to sake produced in Niigata. In doing so, we have learned to brew sake that truly reflects our region.
Though it may be difficult to apply the concept of terroir to sake, I believe it is most important to take pride in the sake produced by each unique region, and set out on a never ending journey to perfect it.
Our Niigata’s sake has been developed and growing harmoniously with Niigata, and it has been loved by many people.
Niigata has been nurturing sake and sake memorize Niigata. And then, as it has always been, our sake will speak for Niigata.
From my essay published in Niigata Nippo newspaper (2007.10.31)