Ask most people to name a famous variety of sake rice and most people will almost instantly name Yamada Nishiki. Ask them to name a prefecture in Japan that grows Yamada Nishiki, and they will probably name Hyogo. And while Hyogo is perhaps the most famous, it is not the only prefecture where this fabled sake rice varietal is grown. Sake rice is basically rice cultivated with properties that are more suited to brewing than eating. There are two types of sake rice: sakamai (literally, sake rice) and shuzokotekimai (sake specific rice for brewing). Yamada Nishiki belongs to the latter. For the rest of this article, the term shuzokotekimai is used. To learn more about shuzokotekimai see this article.
In What Type of Environment Does Yamada Nishiki Grow Best？
If this were an article about wine grapes, this would certainly be a concern. Yamada Nishiki is no exception. It only grows in certain climates.
Yamada Nishiki is a late ripening varietal with stems that grow very tall. The height of these stems make it particularly vulnerable during the Japanese typhoon season, which, yes you guessed it, is when it usually harvests. This and its vulnerability to disease and pests make it notoriously difficult to grow. The best growing areas have soil with good drainage, a rich supply of nutrients, namely magnesium and phosphorous, and contain clay particles to hold water. The climate should be moderate.
As well as being the birthplace of Yamada Nishiki, Hyogo boasts the most appellations that fulfill these conditions, namely the areas around Osaka and Kobe. The topography of a lot of the appellations located north of Mt.Rokko are quite hilly and benefit from large diurnal ranges (difference between day and night temperatures). The valleys and basins to the east and west in particular are cooled by winds from the surrounding mountains and enjoy a diurnal difference in the summer of 10℃, the perfect climate for growing Yamada Nishiki.
Growing Areas Outside Hyogo
While Hyogo accounts for 80% of the total production of Yamada Nishiki, there are other prefectures where it is grown. In actual fact, the Yamada Nishiki growing zone currently spans over 30 prefectures, from the south side of the Tohoku (North East) region to all the way down in the south, in Kyushu. As it prefers a cooler climate, a lot of the north of the country still lacks the right conditions to produce the right quality for sake production. However, global warming may change all this in the future. Could we one day see Hokkaido grown Yamada Nishiki? Watch this space……
So without further ado, KURAND is proud to present the other Yamada Nishiki growing prefectures.
The undisputed number 2, it is better known perhaps for another, indigenous shuzokotekimai varietal called Omachi, but that should come as no surprise to those with a little geeky sake knowledge who will know that Omachi is in fact a part of Yamada Nishiki’s lineage (omachi is also one of the only pure-breeds of shuzokotekimai, all the others are crossbreeds from other varietals just like wine grape cloning or cross-breeding through artificial fertilization). Omachi is none other than one of Yamada Nishiki’s parents, albeit under the slightly confusing pseudonym of Tankan Wataribune (it’s basically an offshoot of Omachi).
Some brewers in Okayama like to produce earthier styles of sake from Yamada Nishiki and in general it is polished less which intentionally produces less fruity and floral aromas in favour of a more rice inherent nose and palate.
Yamada Nishiki Prefecture
Although domestic sake production is still on a downward trajectory, Yamaguchi is one of the prefectures bucking the trend, the only prefecture to manage a 70% increase in production year on year.
It is home to some famous brands, all of whom use Yamada Nishiki as the cornerstone of their signature product line-ups. This is also one of the prefectures upping production to meet the growing demand for this fabled varietal.
This one might come as bit of a surprise, but this prefecture is actually the 20th biggest growing area for Yamada Nishiki. Thanks mainly to an increase in brewers that grow their own rice, some right on the edge of of the urban sprawl.
Although the northernmost parts of Niigata are a bit too cold for Yamada Nishiki cultivation, a number of areas bordering the neighboring Nagano prefecture boast Yamada Nishiki terroirs, although production is small compared to the other prefectures.
In recent years, Tokushima has seen a surge in Yamada Nishiki production. The most famous growing region in Tokushima is Awa on the coast. Sake made with this varietal in this prefecture tends to be much more rich and fruity with lots of acidity to counterbalance the slight sweetness, produced by a special regional yeast which is the result of zapping yeast strains with LED light.
And finally, the gateway to Kyushu, Fukuoka. Fukuoka is the former number 2 grower, but has since given up its crown to Okayama. Again, the sake in this prefecture tends to be much more rich and full-bodied than up in the north of Japan and in many ways Yamada Nishiki is a perfect fit with this style.
Finally, as mentioned earlier in the article, soil is a very important factor in growing high quality Yamada Nishiki, so much so that some brewers in Hyogo have begun to set up the concept of a terroir. But that’s the subject for another article.
So there you have it, Yamada Nishiki is not only grown all over Japan, but the style of sake it produces also varies wildly with the difference in climate and local production techniques.
KURAND showcases a number of examples of Yamada Nishiki so why not pop in and try a few.
We look forward to welcoming you soon!