Taizo Osawa left Tokyo in the early 2000s, with the intention of starting a vineyard and making his own wines. After exploring the USA and Australia, he decided that New Zealand was the best spot for him to begin his newest venture.
“New Zealand is well regarded in Japan and is known for purity, adventure and amazing wines,” Osawa said. “I was all of these aspects that would make the wine appeal to the Japanese public.”
With a background in civil engineering and computers, Osawa sought advice from wine industry leaders and decided on Hawke’s Bay, a region which offered the opportunity to grow many varieties of grapes to a high standard. Osawa bought 100 acres from Craggy Range at Maraekakaho, on the western side of Hawke’s Bay. The single estate vineyard sits on a river terrace in the Mangatahi Valley, alongside the waters of the Ngaruroro River. The climate benefits from low rainfall, hot days and cool nights as it is located between the Kaweka and Ruahine mountain ranges. The first vines were planted in 2006 and produced grapes two years later, grown on free-draining loam deposited over the centuries by the Ngaruroro River. Osawa has been certified sustainable since 2008 and 100 percent organic (Biogro) since 2016.
The company was boosted in 2007 with the arrival of Rod McDonald, a year after his being named New Zealand Winemaker of the Year. McDonald joined Osawa as a consultant winemaker, with a goal of making New Zealand’s best wine and ultimately some of the world’s best wines. McDonald is also a co-owner of the Hawkes Bay Wine Co., where the wine is made.
“Our aim in producing wines for Osawa Wines is to capture the essence of the soils, sunshine and people who ripen and care for the grapes through each season, and distil this into each and every bottle,” said McDonald. “All of our winemaking techniques and philosophies are developed the protect the natural flavours and characteristics that make these wines unique.”
The Osawa Vineyard is perfectly situated within Hawke’s Bay to produce the highest quality Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Inland and slightly at altitude, the vineyard enjoys an ideal range of night time low temperature and daytime heat during the growing season. “This is critical in the growing of varieties where fragrance and acidity are all important,” explained McDonald. “All of the Osawa wines display a richness, minerality and texture that I believe is directly related to these soil characteristics.”
The goal at Osawa is to interfere as little as possible with the winemaking process and to allow the natural form of wine to develop from the grapes. While Osawa Wines primarily produces three using fundamentally different techniques and philosophies, one of the most important considerations for McDonald is that he always delivers the highest quality at each tier. Sourcing all the fruit from a single vineyard allows the winemakers to manage quality from the beginning to the end of the process. “This is important,” said McDonald. “Having the highest quality fruit gives us the opportunity to remove winemaking intervention and make wines that are more characterful and individual at all price points.”
For McDonald, the best part of the job is seeing people experience Osawa Wines for the first time, be it one on one with a restaurant sommelier or to a large wine group and getting positive feedback. In the first ten vintages since the first harvest, Osawa has won five trophies 25 gold medals, three Best in Class awards, 36 Silver Medals and 95 Bronze Medals. Initially, Osawa was an export-only wine label, sold in some of Japan’s top restaurants, as well as large-scale exports to China, Malaysia and the USA. In 2010 Osawa Wines became New Zealand’s third-largest exporter of wine, behind Sileni and Villa Maria.
The current offering involves Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. Osawa also produces a Methode Traditionelle NZ, Noble and late harvest Gewürtztraminer and a Sangiovese Rosé. Production of wine has doubled since the early days
“I believe that we have the people and raw materials to make some of Hawke’s Bays and New Zealand’s finest wines,” said McDonald. “I think that the unique expression of Japanese ideas and philosophies combined with New Zealand vineyards, winemaking, people and attitude, we will produce wines of real character and interest.”