Passionate wine lovers often want to live their dream and someday hope to make their own wines. Japanese Yoshiaki Sato is one of them. In 2005, he and his wife, Kyoko, quit their high-flying banking jobs and settled in New Zealand to study grape growing and winemaking, gained hands-on experience at Central Otago wineries and eventually produced their own wines – 250 cases of Pinot Noir – in 2009 under the brand Sato Wines using grapes sourced from two organic vineyard sites in Central Otago.
Their hard work paid off, and today, they are making six wines, with a total of 1,800 cases exported to several markets, including Hong Kong. In 2015, the couple purchased a five-hectare vineyard plot on Mount Pisa in Central Otago, planted 17,000 vines the following year and made the first wine this year.
I’m not quite sure if it’s because of his Japanese background, but Sato’s Pinot Noirs are different from most in Central Otago. The wines are more delicate with a certain lightness on the palate, not dissimilar to fine Japanese cuisine. Sato picks the grapes earlier than most of his neighbours to retain their fresh acidity. The grapes are of perfect ripeness rather than being overripe, so the final alcohol content of the wine is below 14%.
Overripe grapes can stand up to more new oak, but this is not suitable for all grape varieties. Pinot Noir is feminine with soft tannin and should be gently treated. Yoshiaki believes the complexity of the wine has to come from the grapes themselves and not new oak. While he uses new barrels for some of his wine, he only uses the bigger 500-litre barrels and only a small percentage to make sure that the oak does not overpower the wine.
Sato practises natural winemaking – not using commercial products such as yeasts and chemicals and only using minimum sulphur dioxide at bottling to preserve the wine. I am sceptical about the zealous marketing of natural wine, but Sato agrees with me that natural wine should not equate to “dirty” wine. He makes sure his wine is made from healthy grapes in a clean cellar and that the wine is properly handled.
We tasted three Pinot Noirs from the 2016 vintage, and they all have different characteristics. Northburn is from Sato’s biodynamic site, and the wine is elegant with a pure red fruit expression and fine tannin, while Pisa Terrace is richer and fuller-bodied with a darker fruit aroma. L’Insolite is the flagship wine that has the purity of Northburn, the structure of Pisa Terrace and added complexity.
The other must-try from Sato Wines is the orange wine made with Pinot Gris with three weeks of skin contact. This wine is fresh with herbal and floral notes and has a jasmine tea-like feel on the palate – it definitely goes better with dim sum than any Chinese tea!
Sato Wines are available in Hong Kong at La Cabane, which specialises in natural wine. Have a chat with the friendly staff there if you want to know more about natural wine.
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