After searching for two decades and inspired by the 1976 Judgement of Paris, Kenzo Tsujimoto settled on Napa Valley’s smallest AVA, Wild Horse Valley, as the location for his new project. His fortune having been made in video games Tsujimoto turned his attention to winemaking with the purchase of a property on the slopes of Mt. George.
A small section of the estate was first planted to vine in 1999. However by 2002 Tsujimoto would begin again by replanting the entire vineyard, this time under the guidance of renowned viticulturist David Abreu. This dedication to producing the very best would go on to become the signature of Tsujimoto’s approach to developing Kenzo Estate – “Wine, much like video games, is not a necessity. Therefore, if we do not create the absolute best, highest quality, no one will pay attention.”
The team at Kenzo Estate was further augmented by the arrival of acclaimed winemaker Heidi Barrett, of Screaming Eagle and Amuse Bouche fame to name but a few. With the vineyard now established and a strong team at the helm, the first release to market in 2008 was the 2005 vintage.
It is a meticulous attention to detail and a dedicated vision for the estate that guides Tsujimoto. He is often described as a man of humility with a team of loyal employees. His vision for the estate is long-term, as Barrett says; “He’s not in it for the short term. That’s admirable. … He’s very thorough. He’s not in a hurry.”
Tsujimoto carefully crafts the customer experience and typically frames it within an exquisite creative sensibility, such as the inaugural shipment to club members, which involved the personal touch of wrapping individual bottles in Rothki, a traditional piece of Japanese cloth. The name of the estate is discreetly placed on the back label. The front label focuses purely on the wine, showing both the English name and the Japanese symbol.
Combining the finesse of Japanese aesthetic with the stylistic influence of Bordeaux imbues the Kenzo approach. The red wine companions of Ai and Murasaki look to the Left and Right Bank respectively and offer, in the words of critic James Suckling, fascinating aromatic complexity. In tasting the 2006 Ai, Suckling describes it as “Clearly excellent” and remarks on the “fascinating aromas of coffee bean, toasted oak and Christmas cake …”.
The word Ai references the long-standing Japanese art of creating indigo dye. A complex process, the artisan must carefully balance each component, presenting grace and power in perfect harmony. This concept is at the very heart of Tsujimoto’s approach to Kenzo Estate. The 2007 Ai achieved that harmony for Suckling when he described it as a wine that offers “layers of character, richness and beautiful tannins”, awarding it 96 points.
Ai’s companion, Murasaki, references the colour purple, long associated with quality and rarity. Of the 2006 Murasaki with its Merlot signature, Suckling says, “I love the stone, the slate, the aniseed on the nose, silky tannins but then it turns delicate, the wines have a lovely delicacy …”.
Very limited production combined with high demand in the Japanese market makes the wines of Kenzo Estate a real challenge to track down but one that for serious wine lovers will be richly rewarded.