Best Wineries

Kenzo Estate Winery in Napa

By Published On: May 30th, 2024

Interview with Winemaker Marc Nanes.

Kenzo Estate Winery is a breathtaking 3800 acre oasis in the southeastern hills of Napa Valley. Kenzo and Natsuko Tsujimoto have worked tirelessly since first setting eyes on the property in the late 80’s, to realize their vision for this special place.

Today, their property includes 168 acres of pristine vineyards, a state of the art winery and cave complex, and a luxurious hospitality space to welcome guests. And perhaps the best part of all, is that they have preserved thousands of acres of land, creating a wildlife paradise in the backyard.  We interview Kenzo Estate Winery Winemaker Marc Nanes to learn more.

Tasting Room. Photo Courtesy: Kenzo Estate Winery.

What type of wine do you specialize in? 

Kenzo Estate Winery Winemaker Marc Nanes: Red and white Bordeaux varietals. Our portfolio includes wines for all occasions, from elegant Bordeaux reds, to delicious Sauvignon Blanc, high energy Rose, sparkling wines produced in the methode champenoise, and a delicately sweet late harvest Sauvignon Blanc that we call Muku. We have you covered for brunch, lunch, dinner and beyond.  

Wine labels are designed exclusively by Tamotsu Yagi Design, at the instruction of COO Natsuko Tsujimoto. Photo Courtesy: Kenzo Estate Winery.

Winemaker Marc Nanes: As a lifelong connoisseur of Japanese food (sushi is my desert island food), I was really excited when our estate tasting room decided to offer a bento box and wine pairing. This tasting combines the amazing food from our Michelin Star restaurant, Kenzo Napa, with a full flight of our estate wines.

The coordination between the winery and our restaurant in getting these boxes to the table is incredible. They are unassuming and extraordinary Japanese culinary treats to explore with Kenzo wine, and so far, our guests are loving it. 

Bento Box & Full Wine Pairing available only by reservation. Photo Courtesy: Kenzo Estate Winery.

What makes your wine unique?

Winemaker Marc Nanes: Short answer, this estate is the defining feature of our wines. We are situated at the southern end of Napa Valley, high up in the hills, and we enjoy a growing season unlike most other Napa productions. The wind and fog come in off the San Francisco Bay, keeping us shrouded in cool fresh air throughout the growing season.

Atop of Mt George, the Estate features diverse topography with 168 acres planted to vine (of 3800 total estate acreage). Photo Courtesy: Kenzo Estate Winery.

Our fruit hangs on the vine longer than most other vineyards, and evolves slowly, allowing the berry chemistry and flavors to develop in parallel. The result is healthy, balanced wines that are drinkable upon release, while being age-worthy for years to come.  

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?

Winemaker Marc Nanes: I’d want anyone visiting our estate, or buying our wines around the world, to know that hundreds of hands have put that single bottle of wine on their table. We have an amazing team of talented people that work hard to grow the grapes, make the wine, sell it, and account for it. A production like ours does not happen without an amazing team like this.

Kenzo Estate is known for offering moderation: half-bottles of every label and vintage. Photo Courtesy: Kenzo Estate Winery.

How did you get started in the wine industry? 

Winemaker Marc Nanes: I grew up in the big city, NYC. After school, I bought an old Caddy and headed west, chasing a dream, to San Francisco. In the year 2000, after spending a year working in Museums and art galleries around SF, a good friend of mine called and asked me to join him working a wine harvest in Napa.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I jumped at the opportunity. And this city kid absolutely loved being the rookie cellar intern doing all of the dirty harvest jobs. My friend, however, didn’t enjoy it so much, and ended up working in a restaurant in town instead. I’ve gone on to occupy the winemaking role here at Kenzo Estate, and my friend went on to become one of just 273 people worldwide to have earned the title of Master Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers.    

Winery Winemaker Marc Nanes. Photo Courtesy: photo Blaze Williams.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process?

Winemaker Marc Nanes: Leave no grape skin behind. Early in my career, I had the privilege of working under some towering industry figures, including Bruce Cakebread, Aaron Pott, Benjamin Ochoa, Sarah Gott, Phillippe Melka, and Jayson Woodbridge. Each one of them, in their own way, taught me that good housekeeping leads to great wine. And by good housekeeping, I mean cleanliness in the winery.

To this day, I have always tried to follow their examples, and maintain a clean and organized facility, so that our guests will know that the wine they are drinking, has been produced in an environment that respects its origins and its final consumer.

Typically, their red wines are barreled for 20 months in a selection of new and neutral French oak. Photo Courtesy: Kenzo Estate Winery.

Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine? 

Winemaker Marc Nanes: While I was studying abroad in Israel in 1997, I visited a small wine region in the north, called Carmel. I remember sitting outside of a small winery there, with a couple of friends, drinking a bottle of their locally grown wine. I remember loving every minute of that visit. And although at the time it didn’t dawn on me to pursue a career in winemaking, it laid the foundation for what was to come.    

Describe your winemaking philosophy or approach.  

Winemaker Marc Nanes: Hands off! Let the fruit do the work. When grape quality is high, a winemaker’s job is to facilitate, not manipulate the process of vinification. Our job is to tell the story of a place through each bottle of wine.    

Kenzo Estate typically harvests later than other Napa Valley wineries. Photo Courtesy: Kenzo Estate Winery in Napa.

What do you love about winemaking?  

Winemaker Marc Nanes: My office is surrounded by vineyards and pristine forested hills. Winemaking has connected me to the natural environment in a way that I truly cherish. One of my favorite tasks, is riding the ATV through the vineyards during harvest, tasting grapes, deciding when to pick each block. There’s nothing like it, because I know that within days, those perfect grape clusters will be transformed into wine.        

The varied topography on Kenzo’s property. Photo Courtesy: Kenzo Estate Winery.

How does your team help you as a winemaker?  

Winemaker Marc Nanes: The Kenzo Estate cellar team does all the heavy lifting in the winery, from crush to bottle. And they make it look easy, and in turn make my job easy. But having worked in wine cellars for many years, I know that it is not easy work at all. I truly appreciate their efforts each day, and I know Kenzo and Natsuko do as well.

Natsuko and Kenzo Tsujimoto, vintners. Photo Courtesy: Blaze Williams.

Do you have a favorite story about working at your winery? 

Winemaker Marc Nanes: In 2013, Carmelo Anthony lead the NBA in scoring as a New York Knick. In that same year, I hosted Carmelo and his wife Lala here at Kenzo Estate. I asked him to sign a barrel head when we were touring through the cave. Once that barrel was emptied of wine, and no longer needed in our cooperage inventory, I bought it, removed the head, and hung it on my wall at home.  

 

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