It’s a big leap from a busy hotel in Tokyo to a flower-filled vineyard in Grovetown. But in the 15 years since Shigehisa Kimura visited Champagne and Bordeaux as a young sommelier, he has been steadfast in his determination to grow and make wine.
“The experience was so fascinating,” he says, recalling that journey of discovery. “My feeling on seeing the vineyards and wineries, feeling the atmosphere, and getting the smell of the winery, was ‘there is something more in this industry, rather than just serving the wine’.”
Shige, as he is known to most, went home to Tokyo determined to train as a winemaker, despite the demand for trained sommeliers and the lack of any oenology courses in Japan. He and his wife Mieko looked to France and the United States, but could not afford the commitment of four years of study, along with the prerequisite year of English language studies. Then, on the cusp of giving up and staying in hospitality, they found information on the Eastern Institute of Technology in Hawke’s Bay, with one year of English language and a one-year Certificate in Winemaking and Grape Growing.
From Hawke’s Bay, their dream brought them to Marlborough, firstly to Shige’s vineyard job at Clos Henri, then to Villa Maria’s cellar, before a Diploma in Viticulture and Wine Production at NMIT. Mieko undertook studies in wine and viticulture too, and in 2009 they launched their own label, Kimura Cellars, buying Sauvignon Blanc grapes and looking to the Japanese market.
In 2012, after completing a Lincoln University Degree of Oenology and Viticulture via NMIT, Shige added Pinot Noir to the portfolio. Now, the couple’s label is 10 years old, and the Kimuras are heading into the first harvest on their own vineyard, which will provide Sauvignon Blanc grapes for vintage 2019.
The couple and their son Ryo live on the Grovetown vineyard, and spent spring looking out over stunning fields of yellow, purple and green, thanks to the mustard seed and Phacelia planted between every second row. The mustard seed roots are good for the soil and the Phacelia is good for the beneficial insects, says Shige, who is working towards organic certification for the vineyard.
Shige and Mieko sell much of their wine in Tokyo and distribute to around 400 restaurants and bottle shops across Japan. “Japanese people are very happy to support a Japanese winemaker in a foreign country,” says Shige. “This is kind of a wine lover’s dream.”
The wine label incorporates cherry blossoms into a koru, weaving together the cultures of their two homes, and representing harmony and a new start.
Their own new start in Marlborough has been supported by many, says Shige, who continues to be surprised by the people willing to help them succeed. “I strongly feel generous Kiwi supporters made my dream come true, so I would like to say ‘thank you so much’ to them,” Shige says. “My business is going well because I have met so many great people in Marlborough.”