NAO KUNIMI

Assistant Winemaker | Black Estate | North Canterbury

 

Originally from Yokohama, Japan, Nao was working as a computer engineer in Tokyo when she decided to take a year off to backpack around New Zealand. That was in 2007, and fourteen years later, Nao is still living in New Zealand today.

 

When Nao arrived in New Zealand, she knew nothing about wine until she began working at what she thought was just a small winery, and all that changed.

Nao Kumini and dog
Nao Kunimi

What drew you to New Zealand?

I had visited NZ before and already knew it was beautiful country. When I came back, I was captured by the friendly people and relaxed way of life.

Where is your favourite place to visit in New Zealand?

So many places! The West Coast of the South Island for its wildness. Sumner Beach in Christchurch and also Kaikoura for the surf. Wanaka for the mountains and the wine. Wellington for the cafés and the bars. Just to name a few!

What made you want to become a winemaker?

When I arrived in New Zealand, I knew nothing about wine. I began working at what I thought was just a small winery – you may have heard of it – Felton Road!

It was my first experience in the wine industry, and my eyes were opened to this wonderful world full of passionate people. You often hear winemakers and others in the industry talk about the wine bug – once you get it, it is hard to shake.

Wine has allowed me to travel all over the world. It connects people from different cultures and backgrounds, and most importantly, it makes people happy.

Nao Kumini

To you, what makes the New Zealand wine industry so special or unique?

It is easy to be entranced by the old world, with its rich history and tradition. However, I think sometimes the weight of that tradition prevents progress. New Zealand has incredible freedom which is why our wine industry is very dynamic and innovative. However, there is always room for improvement.

What goals in the wine industry are you still wanting to achieve?

Working at Black Estate for the past eight years has been incredibly gratifying. It is great to be able to work with the same piece of land over consecutive seasons. However, I’m always eager to continue my wine education and discover new lands, terroirs and their people. I have spent some time in Burgundy and Germany, but a goal of mine is to work with Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley, or some native varieties in Italy.

What would you like to see more of in the New Zealand wine industry?

There has been a big move towards organic viticulture and more sustainable farming in general in the last decade, but we can always do more. I would love to see viticulture lead New Zealand in organic agricultural practices.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

Working in wine is a very humbling experience. There is so much that is out of your control, and each year presents fresh challenges. A big part of the trade is learning to work with those challenges and adapt to the vintage.

It keeps things exciting, but it’s also pretty terrifying!

What is your favourite wine variety?

Pinot Noir and Riesling – I love old and new world expressions of both!

What would you say to women considering a career in wine?

Go for it! Women now make up a big part of the wine industry and are excelling in a variety of different roles -  from the vineyard, to the winery, to sales. For this current growing season, we have had an almost entirely female vineyard crew, which is great to see.

Like any industry, it comes with challenges, but by and large, I think it is an open-minded and rewarding industry to be in.

 

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