A trip to Miyoshino
We're taking you to the Yoshino region of Nara to discover the Miyoshino Jozo brewery. You'll no doubt have heard of this valley, famous for its carpet of over thirty thousand cherry trees that enchant visitors every spring as they come into bloom. Today's scene is set in a slightly different environment, one of forest and the symbiotic relationship between man and nature. For those who have seen it, this communication will no doubt evoke Naomi Kawase's film "Journey to Yoshino". In any case, that's the impression we got from this visit !
Story by Arisa Suda - Photo by Michika Mochizuki.
You don't arrive at Miyoshino Jozo by chance.
From the temple of Kashihara Jingu in Nara, the mausoleum of Jinmu, Japan's first Emperor, a local train takes you through the heart of Nara Prefecture to the banks of the Yoshinogawa River. This marks the boundary with the divine world of the forest to the south, and is the starting point for Shugendō pilgrimages (see box). This is where the Myoshino Jozo brewery has been located since the Meiji era, when a fire forced it to leave the heart of the mountain where it was originally located. No one on the spot can say when the first sake was produced, at a time when it was sacred and destined exclusively for the Kinpusenji temple, the monastic centre of Shugendō.
At the Kashihara Jingu temple in Nara.
Shugendo is a thousand-year-old Japanese spiritual tradition in which the relationship between man and nature is paramount. It focuses on asceticism, mountain living and includes teachings from other Eastern philosophies such as animism, Shintoism, Taoism and Confucianism. The aim of shugendō is the development of experiences of spiritual powers (gen) through the virtuous practice (dō) of asceticism (shu) (source Wikipedia).
Shugenja, also known as Yamabushi, on his pilgrimage.
Sake from the Nara region and Miyoshino Jozo's approach.
While throughout Japan, breweries are traditionally located in areas where there is both rice and spring water, the situation here is different: the sake produced locally is for the most part associated with ritual use and temple consumption. This is a far cry from the commercial considerations that govern the industry, because to bring sake to the gods, you need manual labour, carefully selected ingredients and meticulous preparation. It's all about symbolism, using materials that are available in the immediate vicinity, even if their quantity is limited, and even if their quality varies. A slow life that goes back thousands of years, which places man as a whole, on the same level as the natural elements that surround him, the trees, the animals, the mushrooms. It's a way of preserving the fragile balance that reigns here.
Miyoshino Jozo's sake is thus an expression of its environment, its climate and its nature. Teruaki Hashimoto, Toji and member of the owner family, describes his role as bringing together the various components needed for production, with as little intervention as possible in the processes.
The rice is produced by local farmers.
The rice used is produced locally on small family farms that grow different crops throughout the year. So the land may grow onions in winter, and rice in the warmer months. As the availability and quality of rice varies, the work of sorting and rinsing is painstaking. Koji is always produced in so-haze (the Aspergillus oryzae fungus is allowed to grow freely on the surface of the grain, unlike the tsuki-haze used in the production of Ginjo, where it is directed to colonise the inside of the grain). The yeasts are not selected, but are present in the brewery's atmosphere, including the kojimuro, according to Mr Hashimoto. The fermentation temperature is not controlled, so different times of the year produce different sakes: autumn for Mizumoto, winter for namazake, spring for Yamahai. Finally, to complete the picture, the brewery is run by just eight people, five of whom are entirely dedicated to producing the 350 or so Goku brewed each year, or around 600 hectolitres.
Teruaki Hashimoto, Miyoshino Jozo's Toji in his kojimuro.
One of the region's main activities is forestry.
Myoshino Jozo is gradually returning to using wood for its instruments, and in particular for its fermentation tanks. Cedars from the Yoshino region are used. These are unusual in that, planted very close together, they grow much more slowly, resulting in tighter spacing between the growth rings. As a result, they become impermeable, making it easy to contain liquids. An additional advantage of wood is its thermal inertia, which allows temperatures to stabilise naturally. Finally, the use of wood helps to maintain a population of micro-organisms that are important for the final character of the sake. Fermentation of Nature x Nature sake, for example, takes place in wooden vats, and the idea is to extend these methods to more vintages.
You may remember Yamamori, the forest ranger in the film Journey to Yoshino. His role is to decide which trees are ready to be harvested.
To make the fermentation tanks, the wood is taken from the outer part of the heartwood, at the edge of the sapwood.
72cl - alc. 17% vol.
This is a Kimoto sake made using a technique inspired by ancient writings that described the "Bodaïmoto" technique, which has been reapplied to this cuvee. The technique involves soaking the rice in water before fermentation begins, in order to increase the concentration of lactic acid. Fermentation is carried out by 'indigenous' yeasts present in the brewery. A rich sake, with marked acidity, wild and powerful flavours of undergrowth and mushroom, but also lots of freshness with magnificent citrus notes. Enjoy with umami-rich dishes, deep, powerful flavours, game, meat, marinated or grilled fish. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
72cl - alc. 17% vol.
A Yamahai sake made with natural yeasts, without addition by the brewer. It is produced in late winter, when temperatures are still cold, because these are the best conditions to obtain good concentrations of lactic acid and thus protect the moromi. A sake with a nose marked by notes of citrus, lemon and lime, tropical fruits. The mouth is powerful and has a marked, surprising acidity. The bottom remains sweet, on lactic yogurt flavours moderated by a good bitterness (amazupaï, bittersweet). The finish is frank and clean. Its marked acidity makes it the perfect partner of powerful preparations, meats, marinated fish, cheeses. To consume fresh or chambered.
HANATOMOE NATURE x NATURE
50cl - alc. 13% vol.
This sake is produced by the young Toji Mariko Léveillé. It is a Yamahai sake for which fermentation is done in cedar barrels by yeasts naturally present in the brewery. It is also a Kijoshu, a sake where the water that is usually added during fermentation is replaced by sake to concentrate the aromas and keep the creaminess.
Round and super fruity, on pear, apple, grape muscat, we have a lot of finesse and freshness. A balance between accessibility and depth, Nature x Nature is very interesting to introduce its entourage to sake, while expressing rare complexities. Serve fresh, on delicate dishes of Japanese cuisine, but also on elaborate French cuisine. Also on cheeses and desserts.