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July 13, 2011

Sake Files: Harvesting sake rice with Daishichi in Nihonmatsu (Sept. 2010)

Usually sake houses do not own the rice they use as raw material, this in contrast to wineries. But in recent times several sake breweries have obtained some rice fields in order to experiment - for example with organic rice - and also to get closer to nature.

The rice field

This is one of the fields owned by the Daishichi Sake Brewery in Nihonmatsu. No agricultural chemicals are used in this field - that is why you see some weeds in the field as well (grown extra because of the hot summer). The total volume of the rice decreases because of the weeds, but there is no negative influence on the quality - on the contrary.

It was beautiful to observe the life of insects and small animals as crabs and snakes in this organic field. Large dragonflies hovered over the puddles.

Large grains

The rice being grown here is special sake rice with a larger grain than in the case of food rice: Gohyakumangoku. The starch that is necessary for sake brewing is concentrated in the "white heart" in the center of the grain. This sake rice happened to be earlier ripe than the food rice you see on the neighboring fields (note the color difference on the first photo).

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Last Saturday (September 2010) a group of volunteers (fans of Daishichi) was busy harvesting the field by hand. This was heavy, but very pleasant work!

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Cut rice ears and the reaping-hook used to do the job.


A faster way

To help us out, half of the field was mechanically harvested with this light contraption that almost resembles a lawn mower.

Harvested rice put out to dry

After harvesting, the bunches of rice ears were bound around poles to dry. Sun drying takes about a month. After that they will be threshed and finally the rice will find its way to the rice-polishing factory.

On this photo and the top one you can clearly see the Adatara mountain range that looms up on the horizon behind Nihonmatsu. The mountain also provides excellent water for sake brewing.

[This post was written in 2010. Due to the accident with the nuclear reactor, Daishichi has decided not to plant rice in its own fields in 2011. Instead, the top 5 centimeters of soil have been removed to clean up the fields. .The rice from the above field "Mutenden" was only used to make small amounts of organic sake. Daishichi normally makes sake with rice bought from contract farmers in Aizu (Western Fukushima), Toyama and Hyogo. This year, all the rice bought by Daishichi is tested for safety by the Agricultural Cooperation before buying it, and again by Daishichi itself, with very sensitive equipment, both before and after polishing the rice. Thus Daishichi ensures the complete safety of its sake.]