Amidst recent talk of struggling Japanese sake makers (You are buying more imported sake, yes?), there is also some sake made closer to home worth noting: Sake made with California-grown rice.

According to the California Rice Commission (CRC), California is the nation's second largest rice-growing state, with 4 ½ billion pounds grown last year. Most of that happens up north in the Sacramento Valley, where the weather is more rice-friendly. Families like the Lundbergs have been selling dozens of varieties of rice to home cooks since the 1930s; The CRC also notes that most sushi rice in this country comes from California rice. But some of that rice is also destined for the sake bottle.

One such California-grown producer is Momokawa in Oregon's Willamette Valley, which sources all of its Calrose rice from the Sacramento Valley. The brand has recently undergone some major bottle design plastic surgery, so you'll be seeing those Jackson Pollock-inspired labels by designer Jeffrey Caldewey in stores this summer. Momokawa's Greg Lorenz, the only American sakémaster to date, has also tweaked the brand's four junmai ginjo (premium) sake formulas. According a press release, Lorenz wanted to make the flavors “more appealing to American consumers yet retain the standards of his [Japanese sakémaster] teachers.”

Well, in today's “President Palin Half-Baked Alaska” sort of world, we're not sure that making things more appealing to the American palate is always a good idea. But here, the tweaks are subtle. We thought the “Pearl” creamy nigori and organic “medium rich” junmai ginjo sakes were particularly memorable. The former is a fantastically creamy blend with a nutty finish, the organic “medium rich” would make a nice crisp, summer picnic wine (affordable, too, at around $13). Look for them in the coming weeks at local specialty retailers like K&L Wine as well as BevMo and other larger retailers.

LA Weekly