Tatenokawa began to make sake in the 1850s. The brewer aims to “make sake that will one day lead the world”. In 2010, they became the first brewery in Yamagata Prefecture to make only Junmai Daiginjo sake. In 2017, the 6th generation brewer Sato Jumpei created "Komyo", which made a stir in the sake industry with its use of premium Yamada Nishiki rice polished down to just 1%. This achievement made Komyo one of the most sought-after sakes in the world.
The key process: Water absorption and steaming
Mr. Sato: The most important process in sake brewing is the processing of the raw material, namely rice milling, rice washing, and steaming. In particular, I think that water absorption and steaming are the most crucial stages. The quality of this part determines whether or not it will be a good sake. In addition, in order to maintain quality, we strictly manage the time between squeezing and burning. The method is to maintain the process at a low temperature, shortening the time as much as possible, burning it as soon as possible, and storing it in a bottle. We are also focusing on storage management.
Sake will change with future technology
Mr. Sato: Improving the technology of machines and equipment will improve the quality of sake. In the past there were no bottles or refrigerators, but the current use of refrigerators and cooling distribution services has made it possible to enjoy raw sake normally. Along with technological innovation, the quality of sake is completely different from 100 years ago. Sake will continue to change in line with technological developments worldwide.
The birth of Komyo became a hot topic
Usually a very pure daiginjo sake is milled to about 40 or 50% of its original size. The lower the rice polishing ratio, the more time-consuming and difficult the process, but the more fragrant the resulting sake. Komyo’s achievement was a breakthrough in sake history, which was not previously imaginable in the industry. The refined Komyo is identified by an ultimate transparency set off by a light aroma of white flowers. The flavour is rich and fruity with a gentle sweetness. Chilled Komyo matches all foods with a light flavour. Only around 200 bottles are available for sale per release.
Mr. Sato: I talked with a local liquor store about my plan to make sake with a rice polishing ratio around 7-8%. He then suggested to me, “why don’t you try to reach 1%?” So I decided to make a 1% sake. The commercialisation itself was not that difficult. I think that we were able to produce good quality rice by reducing the rice polishing method and the size of the rice. However, to be honest, I was worried about whether or not customers would accept sake with a price of 100,000 yen per 720ml.
The 100 years' vision
Actively develop overseas markets and increase export sales
Mr. Sato: Currently, the ratio of exports to total sales is about 18%. I would like to make it at least 50% and the target is 70-80% for exporting to overseas. We would like to become a brand that can be purchased at high-end Japanese restaurants around the world, duty-free shops at airports, high-end supermarkets and department stores, and specialist wine shops.
Rebuild the cheap image of sake
Mr. Sato: I think the price range of sake is narrower than that of wine. The fact that there are almost no high-priced ranges is largely due to the fact that the value of sake has not been fully communicated. It is our task to create a high-class sake market.
Reactivate Yamagata Prefecture
Mr. Sato: I hope that more people will visit Japan by developing an interest in Japanese culture through sake and Japanese food. For example, we hope that you will come and experience the sights and activities in the countryside of Yamagata such as hot springs and mountain climbing. In future, I would like to promote the charm of the local area to the world.
Building a company means building people
Mr. Sato: The key to sake brewing is to create an environment in which bacteria and yeast can easily undergo saccharification and alcoholic fermentation. Specifically, there are only two factors: moisture control and temperature control. "Preparing the environment" is the same for staff, and I think it is the company's duty to create an environment where employees can take pride in brewing sake and concentrate on their work. Originally, when I took over the company, it was more like an extension of the family business than a company with 3 to 4 employees. Now it has about 50 employees. I think it's my job to create an environment where employees can be satisfied with their work, salary, holidays, and so on. I think it would be best if I could make sake, receive a good salary, be rewarded, and grow together.
Message to readers
Mr. Sato: I think that sake will become even more diverse as the number of breweries overseas (as well as in Japan) increases. By all means, please try to find a sake that suits you while enjoying Japanese food. It would be great to take the opportunity to learn more about and visit Japan.