Ube City’s Nagayama Honke is a growing name in the sake world. Their label Taka is not only popular in Japan, but it’s earning a name overseas as well. And I’m a fan myself, with the green label Choshu no Junmai taking a top spot in my favorites list.
I got an appointment to talk to the current toji and Kuramoto Takahiro Nagayama about sake making, his philosophy, and what he envisions for the future of Taka.
Nagayama took over from his father in 2002. At the time, the kura’s main label was Otokoyama, which is one of the most common sake names in Japan. As he began to shape the kura to fit his own style, he decided to create a new label to differentiate their sake from others, and thus Taka was born.
His initial interest was in making more junmai sake, as well as creating sake with wider appeal. His father was initially against junmai, because in traditional sake making junmai is considered far too acid heavy. Of course, with modern sake brewing techniques this is no longer the case, and junmai is de rigeur for most premium makers.
Over time, Nagayama was influenced by French wine making and German beer brewing and started working ideas of strict quality control, ingredient sourcing, and so on into his sake. The result is Taka Domaine, a subsidiary of his kura that exists solely to grown and procure local rice for sake production. Through it, he buys farm land to grow Yamada Nishiki rice, and has built a rice processing facility so he can do all the necessary grain processing on-site.
Nagayama brings this focus on rice to all the levels of sake production. He tried to avoid over polishing, and instead works to preserve as much of the rice as he can to create sakes with a clear character of the ingredients. Thus, he uses the same water and (mostly) the same yeast for all his sakes, while changing only the rice and the polishing ratio.
The talk we had covered so many topics it’s hard to cover them all, but one thing that really stuck with me is the discussion of terroir. This is a big topic in sake these days, and one I’m skeptical about. Having talked to Takahiro himself, though, I find myself fascinated by his philosophy–and that is what it is to him.
I took the term, terroir, to mean a local character to the sake: a flavor of a region, like is often found in European production. As such, I doubted its real existence. However, to Nagayama, terroir is an environment. He values locality. Local production, local ingredients, local community. It’s the origin, rather than the product, that defines terroir, and whatever character comes through is secondary to that.
I find myself intrigued by this idea, enough so that I’m trying to write an article all about it. Maybe I can share it with you here soon!