North Bay News

Wineries find success exporting California wines to Asia

Friday, February 22, 2013

What does a retired NBA star from China have in common with one of the biggest video game makers? They have both started their own wineries in Napa.

Yao Ming was introduced to red wines at the steakhouses he frequented while playing for the Houston Rockets.

"We do have a lot of beef over there and obviously steak and red wine is a really good combo. It's really good for people to enjoy their life with those two," Yao said.

Kenzo Tsujimoto is the head of video game company Capcom. He's a long-time wine lover and he's been coming to California on business for some 30 years.

"I came to realize that Napa produces the best wine in the world and therefore that really made me think of starting a winery," Tsujimoto said.

Tsujimoto's small Kenzo Estate winery rests on a former horse ranch overlooking the Napa Valley. Tsujimoto bought the sprawling 3,800 acre property 13 years ago.

Tsujimoto spared no expense, investing a $100 million to build a state-of-the-art winery. He re-planted vineyards with the finest grapes on 90 acres and he hired the best people in the business to make his wines.

Last year, Kenzo Estates bottled 11,000 cases, but American wine lovers will probably never taste them because 80 percent of the wines are exported to Japan. Each bottle sells for $80-$250.

Even at those prices, there's a huge demand for premium wines from Japan's huge middle class.

Yao Ming started his boutique winery two years ago. He leases vineyards and production space at the Custom Crush facility in St. Helena.

It's a small operation, producing only about 4,000 cases of his flagship cabernet sauvignon and 500 cases of the Yao Family Reserve Cabernet. Almost all are shipped to China. They're even pricier than the Kenzo wines, starting with the flagship cabernet.

"It ends up being about $280, half of which is tax and then the Family Reserve ends up being about $625," Yao Family Wines President Tom Hinde said.

Even at $625 per bottle, Yao has no problem selling his wine in China. In 2004, wine imports to China totaled $53 million. Just six years later it grew to $800 million.

For Tsujimoto, video games and winemaking are not dissimilar.

"It has to be global, enjoyed by everybody in the world and has to have a good creator and good contents, enjoyed by the consumers," he said. "So, very similar in my opinion."

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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china, napa, wine industry, north bay news, vic lee
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