By Jennifer Moulaison | Photos courtesy of Kenzo Estate
What enthralled gamers of all ages toward the tail end of the last century served as an unlikely springboard for an immense winemaking venture. After building his highly successful video game company, Capcom, (those who remember selecting their character for battle in Street Fighter know Capcom), Kenzo Tsujimoto was seeking a sanctuary for his San Francisco-based team around 1990, when he came across a property that he couldn’t pass up: a sprawling 3,800- acre parcel in the southeast corner of Napa Valley. It would become the renowned winery Kenzo Estate.
The expansive property of raw Napa wilderness also houses generous equestrian grounds where the 1984 US Olympic Polo team trained. Tsujimoto brought ambitious plans for development to Napa County but then discovered that very little of the land could be changed. Because the area is a designated agricultural preserve, Napa County building restrictions prohibited his plan for a Capcom employee retreat. Under the county’s stipulations, the existing equestrian center would be maintained, the Tsujimotos could build a home on the grounds, and the existing vineyards could be expanded to a limited capacity. The result is that visitors are immersed in the natural beauty of the landscape.
Tsujimoto’s wife, Natsuko, is Kenzo Estate’s chief operations officer and helped design the winery’s distinct aesthetic. Other invaluable team members have contributed to the winery’s success. Viticulturist David Abreu has been involved from the beginning as a consultant and vineyard manager. In 2003, winemaker Heidi Barrett brought along her prestigious resumé and what Tsujimoto and his wife describe as an elegant and artistic approach to winemaking. Marc Nanes then joined as an estate winemaker, and his name adorns the label on Kenzo Estate’s latest addition of sparkling wine.
The dynamic team has carefully curated every facet of the winery through bold, intuitive decisions. Early on, Abreu advised that the existing vines on the property were not up to standard and the best bet would be to pull them and replant to optimize vineyard production. While the entire property sits at an elevation of 1,500 feet, a scan of the property reveals the terroir’s incredible variation in soils, slopes, and exposure. Proximity to the San Pablo Bay maintains a thrilling ebb and flow of fog and moisture, keeping vines from drying out during the prolonged summer heat, and the elevation provides days above the fog while the remainder of Napa Valley seems like a bowl of milky fog below.
His success in video gaming, as well as winemaking, has provided Tsujimoto unique opportunities for travel and tasting some of the best wines the world has to offer. It is not surprising that his obsession is to continue production at his Napa Valley estate on this elusive and rarified level. The label plans to lean in to perfect its tried-and-true bordeaux varietals and blends, including the ai cabernet sauvignon, rindo flagship red blend, award-winning asatsuyu sauvignon blanc, and exceptionally reviewed yui rosé. There are also plans to leverage online sales to customers around the world. In particular, the signature half-bottles allow customers to experiment and enjoy wines more appropriately portioned for limited gatherings at home.
Kenzo Estate also looks forward to participating in a unique fundraising opportunity for the Napa Valley Vintners’ organization through an international online auction of library wines from Napa’s top and exclusive name brands. Funds from this event will benefit community nonprofits, serving as a reminder as to why Napa Valley is one of the world’s great wine regions.