New Sato Releases 2018

Yoshi Sato is winemaker, once was bank manager in commercial and investment banking, but found his way to Central Otago because he ‘knew a few people there’ and ‘Otago is the most important new winemaking region’ – the people were nice, the place was nice, so Yoshi stayed. ‘Otago has so much potential for making cool climate white wine too; there’s more possibility for white wine here even. We can make obvious, fruity wines, but have to take care to make wines of precision, not so easy making elegant pinot noir – growing grapes here is easy, making elegant wines is not’.

‘First thing I have to think of is the vineyard’, says Sato. The viticulture practices and picking timing is paramount for Sato’s wines. Though not having total control over the sites, Sato only sources from ‘like-minded people’, preferring biodynamic and organic viticulture, with all vineyard sources falling under these umbrellas. MIKE BENNIE

In 2016, around this time of year, I was driving around the South Island of NZ on a holiday silently cursing the fact that all the Kiwi’s bragging about how beautiful their country was had turned out to be justified. I was not happy about that. I was also determined not to turn another vacation in to a wine tour and so settled on only visiting a few wineries, but we all know how that goes right? Anyway, from day one where we stayed with some friends in Waipara (you guessed it at a winery called Black Estate which is run by two legends) I was asking what wines I should look for that perhaps I hadn’t seen before. My mate Nick mentioned a label that was completely new to me and was full of praise calling their Pinots “luminous”. Now I trust that boy when it comes to these things so I made a mental note to grab a bottle somewhere on my travels.

A few days later we were in Otago and so I thought I would make a few appointments, it would be rude not to right? At each and every one of them I asked the same question and the first answer from every wine person I got talking to was the same “if you can find some grab Sato, but good luck they are exceedingly hard to find.” A little digging and I discovered the Yoshi Sato was working at Felton Road which was handy because that was my last visit for the day. Sadly though while they were also full of praise for his wines they couldn’t help me find any and pointed out that Yoshi didn’t take guests or have a cellar door. I have heard these stories before and it just means I get more determined, don’t tell me I cant have the wine that just makes me want it more.

Finally I tracked a bottle down in a small wine store in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere where it turns out Yoshi was friends with the crew there. Worth the wait? Absolutely! The wine was as good as anything I had tasted in the region and I was even more thrilled when I got home to find he had a distributor here who had stock.

This is only the second time we have had these wines to offer and Michael and I tasted them earlier in the week. Both of us had a little chat afterwards and Michael drew a comparison he rarely would make, he said something like “they have almost a Burgundian feel to them, in the tannins and the fruit”. I have to agree, its rare to see that kind of density in fruit character and those kind of ripe, structural phenolics in Pinot from NZ. These were a very, very serious bracket. Both of us also questioned the amount of new wood because of the smoky, incense characters and he explained that there was a very small portion of new oak and that these characters, he believed, were vineyard derived. That is a very big tick for me, I get very excited about wines of honest and real terroir.

Yoshi showed us two 2015 wines and while both are excellent they are also distinctly different with the Northburn showing a little more of that incense and fresh turned earth and somewhat brooding aspect to the fruit. The Pisa is a slightly darker fruit profile but also a plumper feel and less brooding (perhaps due to the lack of bunches in this wine) but as much as the fruit here may be more in the darker berry spectrum there is also a greater sense of buoyancy, a little more energy to the palate. Honestly they are both very impressive and as good as any 2015 from Otago I have seen and better than the vast majority.

Fortunately for Yoshi and his partner, but sadly for us, he has very quickly gained a strong following for these wines and they are not exactly made in large quantities. The short of it is we don’t have much and they tend to get gobbled up by the restaurants around Australia fairly quickly as they have garnered a similar status to the likes of Kusuda.

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