Story By: Laurie Jo Miller Farr // Photos courtesy of Kazumi Wines

Introducing Koshu Varietal to the U. S.

When Michelle Kazumi Sakazaki lived in Milan and worked at a top Italian fashion house, she didn’t expect winemaking to be in her future. However, during those six years in Italy, a love for wine developed, an avenue she came to see as a more expressive and convivial medium than apparel. So she joined her father in a Napa-based wine export business, 90 Plus Wine Club, and an idea took root during the ensuing 12 years.

After all, 和 (kazu) means harmony, and 美 (mi) signifies beauty.

“I wanted to fuse all the elements and passions of my life into my new business,” Michelle said. “Even the watercolor paintings for my wine labels are a part of that. In Japan, presentation is extremely important, and in Italy, lifestyle sensibilities are paramount. So everything comes together in this endeavor.”

Kazumi Wines, founded in 2015, is a small boutique winery producing about 300 cases per year of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Read on. Even the tasting notes are delicious.

The 2019 Sauvignon Blanc is from a single vineyard in Rutherford, showcasing plush fruits of citrus, apple, and lychee with hints of honeysuckle. There’s salinity to provide a bright, mouthwatering acidity and a juicy, round mouthfeel, while the finish lingers with notes of grapefruit and a hint of almond.

The 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from a single vineyard in Oakville. This wine showcases blueberry, blackberry, and floral notes of violet. Digging deeper, one discovers notes of chocolate, cloves, and savory dried herbs, revealing a good backbone of structure and acidity with velvety tannins. All the layers add to the complexity of this wine for a long finish.

And there’s more. Interestingly, Kazumi Wines has undertaken an exciting adventure that will introduce a novel varietal to North America with the 2022 release of Kazumi Napa Koshu. This uncommon, ancient grape grown primarily in the Koshu Valley in Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture was discovered and purchased from UC Davis.

Michelle described this grape varietal, which first arrived in Japan over a thousand years ago via the Silk Road, as thick-skinned and hardy. The fruit has a dusky pink hue that can produce a wide range of wines, from delicate white to sparkling, orange, and even red wines.

The new Koshu wine has just been harvested from a vineyard in South Napa, producing nearly a ton in 2021, so 50 cases are in production by the Sakazakis and winemaker Kale Anderson.

“Since Kazumi Wines makes only two wines, I think it is safe to say that they are both favorites among customers in the U.S., Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan,” said Michelle. The wines can be ordered online and enjoyed at select Japanese restaurants.