Today you can find Mizubasho sake in 40 different countries. Top restaurants such as French Laundry, El Bulli (before closing), Maison Pic have put the brand on their wine list.
It sounds like a long way away from Kawaba, a rural village in Gunma Prefecture, near the source of the Tone-gawa(*), a place blessed with pure water ideal for brewing sake. That is where Shoji Nagai established Nagai Shuzou in 1886. Five generations later, his heir (and current company CEO) Noriyoshi Nagai studied architecture before re-modeling the kura completely in 1994, to support the Mizubasho new nihonshu brand launched two years earlier. English speaker, Nagai san actually traveled the world and explains he was deeply moved by a 1988 Montrachet Domaine de la Romanee Conti. He subsequently decided to learn about wine and wine-making, visiting France and Champagne in particular. Back to Japan he worked with his Toji (Master brewer) Kenji Goto to produce modern sake that would appeal to wine lovers.
Craftmanship is not an empty word at Mizubasho. It took 700 experimental trials before the company was able to perfect the recipe for their sparkling sake, in 2008, very early for the Japanese sparkling scene. Crisp and clean, revealing fine bubbles, served in a bottle inspired from premium champagne, this sake is definitely elegant and very refined. It is quite easy to pair with food, with its limited acidity (1.3 g/L) and marked umami (rich in amino acids). I understand a patent was actually granted to that local adaptation of a “methode champenoise”. Mizubasho Pure is not the only product in the line-up though, and the company continues to release fine premium ginjo class products, complemented by Kijoshu (sake brewed from rice, koji, water and sake, resulting in a rich sweet taste) and an old vintage Junmai Daiginjo (year changes with time, 2006 was recently released), matured at negative temperatures.
Nagai san was the guest of the October 2017 Sake Salon organized by Sake2020. He came to Tokyo to meet and international audience, and I am looking forward to bring foreign visitors to Kawaba in return, to experience the environment that made the whole adventure possible.
(*) a major river of the Kanto plain, Tone-gawa River empties into the Pacific Ocean in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, not far from well known Narita Airport. Its waters have been providing clean water to Tokyo inhabitants since 1965, a reversal of fate since the Shogun had diverted the lower course of the river away from Edo Bay (Tokyo Bay) in 1654.
NB: pictures extracted from the company website