Located in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Can you provide a brief overview of the history and founding of your winery?
Our story starts in 2011 when our founder was on a trip to Japan and was enlightened by his sake-drinking experiences. He saw a greater dimension to what he thought sake was and was blown away by the artisan nature of the beverage and its diversity in flavor, style, and technique. Like so many craft beverages, sake should be explored in depth, so he set off on the task of learning how to brew this rice-based ferment. Eventually, he was able to go back to Japan and studied under a 6th generation sake brewer at a 200-year-old brewery outside of Osaka. In 2018, North American Sake Brewery opened its doors in Charlottesville, VA making traditional styles of hand-crafted sakes as well as infused and experimental small batches.
What inspired the establishment of your winery, and how has it evolved over the years?
Our founder has been living around the wine country of Charlottesville and Albemarle for years and wanted to add a new experience to the already adventurous tasting community. Sake, a globally renowned beverage, is just starting to be explored and appreciated in America.
Sake, with its nuanced expression, diverse flavor profile, and versatility in pairing with food and occasions, demands intricate craftsmanship, technical expertise, and is deeply rooted in Japan's rich history and culture. It is a swirl of joy and passion, the senses, the seasons, and the human spirit.
Sake is the inspiration. Being a sake brewery, by nature we have constantly evolved since our conception, in both brewing and the restaurant/hospitality/tourism industry. COVID hit after about a year after our opening, which totally rocked us to our core, but this ability to evolve has been our strength. We continually push to make our sake brewing technique better and better. With each batch, we are constantly striving to increase our knowledge, evolve our production facility, and continue to forge deep connections with our brewing counterparts in Japan. Our founder was just in Japan this past August brewing and learning at a sake brewery on Sado Island and in November was on Capital Hill alongside Senators and the Embassy of Japan helping forge connections between our countries and help increase awareness of this incredible beverage.
Outside of sake, we have always had a restaurant and tasting room, a place for people to explore sake flights, learn about the process, and get some hearty Japanese food. But like everyone, COVID forced us to pivot to find ways to engage with our customers. We did pop-ups, curbside, to-go, and pulled together one of the coolest patio-only outdoor bar scenes in the IX Art Park. We also pushed into learning the art of ramen making and found such a natural pair of ramen and sake. This led us to relaunch the restaurant this past January as the "Bad Luck Ramen Bar" which features authentic ramen and 18 Hour bone broth as our specialty. Our sake is better than ever, our ramen is out of this world, and the atmosphere is like nothing else because we have put our hearts into this place.
Can you highlight a few of your flagship or signature wines and what makes them stand out?
Real Magic - Junmai Sake - This is our number one bestseller. It is not too sweet, not too dry with notes of pear and melon and a nice umami finish. It can be sipped chilled, warmed, cooked with, and pairs with so many great foods.
Big Baby - Cloudy Junmai Sake - This is our cloudy, or nigori, style of sake which means it still has rice haze in the mix, kinda like a pet nat or hazy IPA. This gives it bold rice flavor and great texture with notes of banana. Pair the baby with bold foods like a T-bone steak.
Quiet Giant - Extra Dry Junmai Sake - This is our umami bomb, super dry with earthy notes of cedar, mushroom, and vanilla, also this is a genshu which means it is a full strength sake at 18%ABV. The dryness of this one can stand up to spicy food, hamburgers, or pizza.
Olympus - Junmai Ginjo - This is our ginjo made from premium sake rice milled to 60% and brewed with one of the oldest sake yeasts. This refined sake has bright notes of green apple with a light finish. Pair it with pasta or just sip it on its own.
Serenity Now! - Junmai Daiginjo Sake - This is our highest grade sake, our daiginjo mills the rice down to 50% of its pearly core expressing notes of tangerine, lychee, and fig with an incredibly refined pallet. Pair with seafood all day long.
Describe the atmosphere and experience visitors can expect at your tasting room.
People talk about our vibe all the time. We are kind of an underground spot, literally underneath Three Notched Brewery and tucked away in the IX Art Park. We want to take down barriers between our customers and sake, so we make the atmosphere fun, vibrant, hip, and chill. We are not a snooty place and want people to relax, drink some sake, and have a great time with friends and family. We are a lived-in place, where people can come as they are, and we are a working brewery so it's very common to see production happening at all hours. We offer flights so people can taste a variety of sake so they better understand the nuances and differences. Our staff is well-trained to dive deep into what sake is. If you schedule ahead we can give you a brewery tour. And our menu and ramen are delicious and hearty. We also have outdoor seating in the middle of the IX Art Park plus a large full-service bar full of Japanese liquors, beer, and other very interesting drinks.
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About the VWDC
Established by the Virginia General Assembly in 2007, the Virginia Winery Distribution Company (VWDC) is a non-profit, non-stock corporation housed within the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) to provide wholesale wine distribution services for licensed Virginia wineries and farm wineries.