This time, I was on a business trip to Matsumoto city, Nagano Prefecture. Nagano is known for many nice wineries but for this visit, I was there for SAKE. Our company aquired a liquor license late last year and we will start importing and exporting wine and spirits this year.
To think back, it was 2013 that I started to wander around some of the wineries here in Japan because I was impressed by the quality of the Chardonney from Kikka Kumamoto. The taste of their wine was far superior to any of the Japanese wines I'd tasted before in my life and that intrigued me. A year later, my visit to Napa led me to a fine Pinot Noir that I fell in love with, along with its winery, Masut. Here we are 3 years after the start of my journey, prepared, licensed and ready to start trading globally in fine wine and sprits. Incredible! It seems like this has all come to pass in a relatively short time, yet to me it feels like I still have along road ahead. I couldn't have dreamed three years ago, that I would be where I am now. But several fateful encounters and a few small miracles later, with the support of a great school and the encouragement of many nice people along the way, I am going to pursue my dream job.
But first, when you are in Matsumoto, you should not miss Matsumoto Castle. This is one of the oldest castles in Japan and the pride of Matsumoto City. As you can see from the picture, if was a beautiful day and Matsumoto Castle was displaying a hint of a snow white hat on top of its very pretty 400 year old roof. The museum also houses a permanent collection of artifacts that show Japan's transition from bows and arrows to muskets and small cannons and gives you an interesting peek into what it must have been like be a Samurai charged with defending the city hundreds of years ago.
Nagano prefecture is known as one of the few prefectures that supports their wine industry. They sponsor events and have support plans in place for those who want to grow grapes or open a winery. There are so many wineries in this area that I've been wanting to visit but I haven't had a chance to visit so far. Nagano Prefecture is adjacent to my home in Tokyo, yet it is still pretty far to go for a short visit. I could use a good solid week to do some in depth exploring.
As I mentioned, this time I was there for the SAKE breweries. There is a year round event called Shinshu SAKE Country Tourism which is promoted by the Nagano Sake Brewery Association. There are 87 Sake makers in Nagano, the second largest number for any prefecture in Japan. Many of these breweries are small but have rich histories, which tell how the individual brewery has passed down their traditional SAKE making style using local rice and water from one generation to another. It will be fun to visit Nagano several times over the coming years to discover and enjoy each location and its characteristics. Matsumoto City has 11 SAKE makers and is situated adjacent to the steep mountains of the North Japan Alps.
We had a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce representatives of Matsumoto City in the morning, and then head to our primary SAKE maker of interest, Daishinshu Shuzo. This sake maker is known to have a limited production and for making top ranked SAKE. 95% of what they make is Junmai Daiginjo and Junmai Ginjo. Both sake styles require a great amount of care and use rice that is polished over 50%. This makes a delicate SAKE with a very nice aroma and ultra smooth taste. Daishishu tightly controls and manages their production, so that they can keep their quality high. The way they make SAKE makes it prestigious and one of the highest quality products of its kind in the world.
I expected the facility to be somewhat old, with stone walled buildings and old wooden beams, but was surprised to see a modern, yet classic exterior. A nice wooden aroma was the first thing that caught my nose when I entered the building and everything there was neatly arranged and displayed. Very cool! The actual SAKE making facility is located in a different place, but we had a really nice talk with the owner and I've been invited back for a tour of their SAKE brewery.
The next place we visited was Kamedaya Shuzo. Yes, this is the construction that I imagined for a traditional SAKE maker. The owner who is the 6th generation wine maker for the brewery, lives on the second floor of what used to be a shop, built 130 years ago. The owner spoke English very well and seemed used to entertaining foreign guests. She explained that they have been getting quite a number of foreign skiers visiting from the Hakuba ski resort area located an hour and half train ride from Matsumoto City. They come to visit her place and the Matsumoto Castle, she said.
This is a Dososhin, a guardian for the community. You can find these small statues all over Japan, if you walk along the streets in the countryside. They are usually simple stone statues with no color added, but this one was very colorful. The owner said their community usually adds colors to this Dososhin during weddings, borrowing the foundation and lip stick from the bride. That too, explains why this guardian is couple.
It was a precious experience for me to be able to talk with the SAKE makers in this area. I shall have to do this type of activity more often!