From Street Fighter to fine wines

SINGAPORE - Japanese winemakers in New Zealand, the United States and Japan have been making their mark in the wine world but Kenzo Estate has an interesting story.

Its owner, Mr Kenzo Tsujimoto, is better known as the man behind multi- million-dollar gaming franchises such as Street Fighter, Resident Evil and Mega Man.

The 73-year-old chief executive officer of Japanese video games giant Capcom has another passion - wine from Napa Valley in California, which he calls the "best in the world".

Napa Valley is considered the most prestigious wine-growing region in the United States; its diverse climate and soil allow for a variety of premium wine grapes to thrive.

Mr Tsujimoto owns the 1,600ha Kenzo Estate in Napa Valley, which he bought in 1990 when it was still an Olympic equestrian training centre. Vine planting began in 2002 and its first vintage was produced in 2005.

The estate is run by vineyard manager David Abreu and winemaker Heidi Barrett, the dream team behind many of California's successful cult wines. Abreu has raised vines for wineries such as Colgin Cellars, Araujo Estate Wines and Harlan Estate; while Barrett is behind some of the cult wines produced by wineries such as Screaming Eagle, Showket Vineyards and Fantesca.

Kenzo Estate currently produces about 150,000 bottles annually and the wines are sold in the US, Japan and Singapore. Here, it is carried by premium wine supplier Vinum Fine Wines.

The current range features Asatsuyu, a pure Sauvignon Blanc ($144.45 for the 2013 vintage); Yui, a rose ($144.45 for the 2013 vintage); and Ai, a Cabernet Sauvignon ($444.05 for the 2010 vintage). Rindo ($197.95 for the 2009 vintage), the estate's flagship wine, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec.

Next month, the new release of 2011 vintages from Kenzo Estate - Murasaki, Ai and Rindo - will be launched here.

On why he chose to sell his wines here, the Nara-born Mr Tsujimoto says in Japanese via a translator: "I chose countries that have high economic capability and strong culture. I consider Singapore and Japan to be the top two in Asia."

But he notes that the market for premium wine in Japan is still in its infancy.

He says: "Prices can skyrocket when it comes to high-end wine in Japan. Those who have it don't enjoy it. They just look at it, smile and put it back."

So to give people there a taste of his wines, he opened three Kenzo wine bars in Japan, which serve his wines by the glass.

The winery is "not a retirement plan or hobby" for Mr Tsujimoto, who visits the winery at least seven times a year to ensure operations run smoothly. He has a collection of about 5,000 top wines from all over the world and constantly compares his own labels with other premium ones.

And the savvy businessman already has a game plan to ensure the longevity of the business.

His 37-year-old daughter runs the wine business with his wife, who heads the marketing team and names the wine. He hopes that his daughter's three sons, aged two to nine, will take over the business.

His three sons, aged 38 to 48, run Capcom.

He says: "Sake brewers in Japan have been in the business for more than 300 years. Kenzo Estate will be the same. I take my grandchildren every year to the winery to get a feel of the place.

"My passion is to make the world's best wine and I think I've made it."


This article was first published on September 21, 2014.
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