Traditional sake maker Masa Shiroki had a dream. When he started Artisan SakeMaker on Granville Island in 2007, he was the first to produce premium sake in Canada, made with rice imported from Japan.
When he turned his attention to making a 100 per cent local sake, there was just one small hurdle. No one was growing sake rice in Canada.
To rectify this, Mr. Shiroki decided to give it a try. With federal funding through IAF’s Small Projects Program, he conducted field trials on two acres in Abbotsford in 2012. These looked at methods for germination, planting, fertilization, irrigation, and managing pests and diseases. Shiroki grew and harvested three varieties of rice, and analyzed them for quality and yield.
The results were impressive and led to the May release of the first series of Fraser Valley Junmai Sake. According to Mr. Shiroki, it has been a delightful surprise.
“We’ve had a really good response because it is local,” he says. “It has more earthiness and more rice-iness.”
This year’s crop, triple what was grown last year, was ready for harvest in October and several new batches of the local sake will be released over the coming months.
“We’d like to be self sufficient but are only at 25 per cent now,” he adds. “That means growing four times more rice.”
He’d like to work with interested growers but there are still some challenges ahead, such as figuring out how to contend with pests, weeds, birds and algae.
Funding: $4,994 through the federal Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program. (SP190ES)