Kenzo Estate Brings Napa Wines to Roppongi Hills

By Kelly Wetherille
May 23, 2014
Food & Drink

Anyone who has had the pleasure of eating or drinking out in Tokyo knows that our beloved city is home to a staggeringly large variety of restaurants and bars, covering just about every genre and type of cuisine imaginable. I love trying out new places, and catching up with friends over a glass of vino is one of my favorite pastimes, so when I first heard that a Napa winery was opening a "tasting room" at Roppongi Hills, my curiosity was piqued.

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So one Friday evening last winter, when a friend and I were texting back and forth trying to decide where to go for drinks later, I suggested we try the new Kenzo Estate at Roppongi Hills, which had opened in November. Having just returned from a tasting trip around Napa and eager to further expand her wine knowledge, she instantly agreed.

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Neither of us had ever heard of Kenzo Estate before and had no idea what to expect. When we walked into the downstairs bar area, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by an English speaking sommelier, who was more than happy (and capable) to answer our questions and share some interesting facts and figures about this relatively new addition to Napa’s collection of wineries.

My first question was, if Kenzo is a wine estate in Napa, why do all of its wines have Japanese names? The answer was not one I was expecting, but it makes for a pretty good story. The winery was founded by Kenzo Tsujimoto, who also just happens to be the founder of a little company called Capcom, which gamers will recognize as being the force behind such titles as Resident Evil and Street Fighter. According to the sommelier, Tsujimoto began feeling a bit guilty that he was indirectly responsible for a generation of children growing up mostly indoors, and he wanted to do something that would, in however small a way, have the opposite effect. So in 1990 he bought up a huge Napa estate (a former equestrian training ground) and pledged that he would only ever develop a small percentage of the land, leaving the vast majority of it in its natural state.

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Tsujimoto then planted about 100 acres of vineyards (which amount to only about 10 percent of the estate’s total area), tunneled caves into the side of a mountain, and completed the winery in time for the 2009 harvest. But just having a winery wasn’t enough for him; he wanted to be among the best in Napa. To that end, he also hired a superstar team including legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett and famed vineyard manager David Abreu, both of whom are considered to be the very best in their fields. The entire project required an investment of roughly $100 million.

So by now you may be thinking, was all this worth it? Are the wines actually good? Or are they so good that ordinary people can’t ever hope to try them? I am no wine expert, but I can happily say that I found Kenzo’s wines to be quite nice on the palate, and for Tokyo they are fairly reasonably priced. In fact, our new sommelier friend said that some of the wines are even underpriced for their quality, a move Tsujimoto consciously made in order to make them accessible to a larger number of people.

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In addition to the bar area downstairs (which, incidentally, also includes a retail area where you can buy bottles of wine to enjoy at home), the Roppongi Hills branch of Kenzo Estate also includes a full restaurant upstairs, complete with a private room and a side entrance for high-profile guests who want to fly under the radar. The open plan includes movable partitions, so it can accommodate private functions of varying sizes. The Japanese chef uses local ingredients and a mix of influences to come up with imaginative takes on dishes such as chirashi zushi (deconstructed sushi), beef stew, grilled fish and more. Each dish is created to be paired with the wines on offer, and while some combinations may seem unexpected, there are some real flavor gems to be discovered.

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Since that initial visit a few months ago, I have been back to Kenzo several times, and each time I find myself liking the wines—and the elegant yet unpretentious atmosphere—even more. If you’re in the area and are looking to try someplace new, I recommend stopping in for a glass and a chat. You never know what you may learn.

The Deets

Address: 1F and 2F, Roppongi Hills Residence D, 6-12-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-3408-1215

Open: 1F bar and shop, 11 a.m.-3 a.m. (last order); 2F restaurant 5-10 p.m. (last order)