The story started many years ago, in fact it started with the most popular video game of its time. Remember “Street Fighter?” That video game of the ‘80s well before X-Box or Play Station this or that. When Capcom went public in 1990, that gave the company founder Kenzo Tsujimoto the capital to purchase 3,800 acres of property on Mt. George in Eastern Napa that he originally intended to develop into an exclusive employee retreat complete with golf course, until he ran into the myriad of regulations governing property in the Napa Valley. Sorry, golf course not permitted. Thankfully, he did have a Plan B and this one didn’t involve being a Capcom employee. Since Tsujimoto-san always had a taste for French wines and enjoyed Opus One back home in Japan, he decided to develop the property into a world class winery.
Tsujimoto-san started by hiring viticulturist extraordinaire, David Abreu (Colgin Cellars, Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, Grace Family and Araujo Estate) to plant the original 70 acres of vineyards back in 2002. Soon after that, he hired vintner extraordinaire, Heidi Peterson Barrett (Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle Vineyards, Grace Family and La Sirena) to produce his first vintage in 2005. Since then, another 30 acres of vineyard was planted and a second winery was just completed to produce the winery’s only white wine. And with any top notch winery, wine caves were bored into the property giving them over 20,000 square feet of wine storage space that rests comfortably at 60 degrees year round
How Did I Hear About Kenzo Estates?
I read about Kenzo Estate several years ago when he was first featured in Wine Spectator after completing his $100 million winery in 2010. What initially caught my eye was the name of the winery — I first read it as “Kenso Estate.” Hey, that’s my nephew! No, it’s KenZo. Then just last year, the estate donated several bottles of wine for the annual Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California fundraiser auction, including a 2009 Rindo (Cabernet Sauvignon blend) and I thought, “Why not?” So I placed a bid. I eventually won that one bottle, and decided to schedule an appointment for a tour and tasting on our recent trip to Napa Valley.
The winery currently makes only one white wine, a pure Sauvignon Blanc named Asatsuyu or “Morning Dew,” which spends time on French oak to give it a rounder, richer palate. They also produce a rosé made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc named Yui or “Unity” with the grapes grown just to make the rosé. Most rosés are produced as a by-product of concentrating the red wines.
The reds start with Rindo or Gentian flower which is a blend of the traditional red grapes of Bordeaux with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for anywhere between 35 to 50 percent of the blend. The current release of 2011 tasted at the winery was an anomaly at 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon (though it legally could be labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon, Kenzo Estate just uses its proprietary name). Then above the Rindo are Ai and Murasaki with Ai or “Indigo” usually containing more than 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and Murasaki or “Purple” containing 50 to 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The estate also produces a small amount of pure Cabernet Franc named after the town where Tsujimoto-san was born, Asuka (only made in two vintages thus far) but they often sell out of this wine before it even hits the winery shelves.
Visiting Kenzo Estates
For starters, you have to make an appointment for just a tasting, which starts at $40 per person for a flight of four wines. The tour and tasting runs $60 and the tour, tasting and lunch created by Thomas Keller sets you back $80 per person. Individual tastes of the Rindo, Ai or Murasaki are $10 to $25 per taste. It does take about a 30 minute drive from Napa Town up Mt. George to get to Kenzo Estate. However if you do want to purchase wine, it’s sold mainly through their Website or directly at the winery as roughly 70 percent of their wines get distributed throughout Japan and what’s left stateside usually goes to high end restaurants. We actually only intended on trying to secure a couple of bottles of the Asuka Cabernet Franc (which was on the tasting menu) but alas, they only had half bottles left at the winery so we purchased a couple small bottles. The Mrs. also enjoyed their wine so much that she purchased enough wine that we had our tasting fees waived.
The cost of each wine is comparable to other Napa Valley wines where David Abreu and Heidi Barrett are involved though they still aren’t as pricey Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Scarecrow and Checkerboard. But your wallet will still be left with a noticeable hole…
Yu i$80 (sold out)
Asuka $100 (sold out)
Murasaki $250 (sold out)
So they definitely aren’t cheap, but the wines can be enjoyed immediately after purchase so you don’t have to wait for them to mature. And since the holiday season is approaching …
The Gochiso Gourmet’s Wine Gift Guide
$100 or more
Rindo $100 or the wine connoisseur
Durand Corkscrew $125 For the wine connoisseur who has wines older than 10 years
Krug non-vintage Champagne $149 The best quality to price ratio for Champagnes
More than $100
Peugeot Impitoyables Champagne Glass $105 The perfect shape and size for your best bottles of Champagne. Cost is equivalent to a pair of glasses
$50 – $99
Riedel Sommelier Burgundy Grand Cru Glass $99 The best balloon glass for Pinot Noir
Riedel Vinum XL Pinot Noir Glass $98 The second best balloon glass for Pinot Noir – cost is equivalent to a set of four glasses
Detert Cabernet Franc $75 The most fragrant Cabernet Franc I’ve ever tasted
Schott Zwiesel Titanium Crystal ~$60 For those who travel with stemware, the titanium crystal is a lot more break resistant and the cost is equivalent to six glasses
$25 – $49
Pulltap Corkscrew $7-$25 Teflon worm, double lever and a solid foil cutting blade
Riedel “O” Glasses $49 Five different stemless glasses for a variety of reds and whites and labeled for each specific grape
Launois Champagne $35 – $49 The BEST non-vintage Champagne less than $50
Crate and Barrel Bellamy Carafe $29 Designed like Riedel’s $190 “O” decanter at a fraction of the cost
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.