Most careers involve working your way up from some starting point – in Richard Kanazawa’s case it was starting behind the wheel of a Plymouth Voyager, delivering wine for Langley’s Domaine de Chaberton Winery. At the time he had two passions: wine-making and rugby. He was able to pursue both passions by heading to Australia to study one and play the other. In the case of wine-making, he was able to apprentice with a number of established wineries in a country well-known for its wines.
When the time was right, and he was confident in his palate, and decision-making and problem-solving abilities, he returned to Canada, with the ultimate goal of forming his own winery.
After working for two BC wineries, Red Rooster and Blasted Church, he and his wife Jennifer took the plunge and opened their own winery. The first vintage of Kanazawa Wines was produced in 2010 and they have not looked back since.
Richard took time from a busy grape-picking schedule to talk to The Bulletin about life as a wine-maker.
Bulletin Interview: Richard Kanazawa
Tell me a bit about your family and their history here in Canada? How many generations do you go back?
I am second generation Japanese. My father and mother immigrated to Canada in the late 60’s. And started a family in th early 70’s. My father was from Tokyo and my mother was from Yokohama. My mom and dad ran a Japanese school out of our home in Langley and my mom (yoshiko) was the principal at the Vancouver Japanese school in 1972. I am really proud of that fact as we lost her to cancer in 1980. She was an awesome mom!
Where and when did you know you wanted to pursue wine-making as a vocation?
I knew I wanted to be a winemaker the first day I started working at a winery in Langley. I was hired as a delivery driver for a summer job, but as soon as I walked into the cellar and took in the sights and smells, I knew this is what I would do for a living. It didn’t hurt that the owner, Claude Violet asked me to sit down for lunch with them as we ate typically French; baguettes, charcuterie, cheese followed by drinking wine. Not bad for the first day at a summer job. Oh, and most importantly I took a nap right after.
Wine-making is slow process that takes lots of patience, I would think. Given that you have to grow the grapes, then let the wine age before you can put it on the shelf, how long does it take to get a winery up and running?
There are so many variables in getting a winery up and running; raising capital is obviously the biggest challenge, but capital doesn’t buy you passion or make you great wine. We started producing our own brand in September of 2010. The first release of our wines were in September of 2012. But to open our own facility, it took an additional four years. Six years in total.
There are so many wines out there, the choice is rather bewildering – how do you ensure your product stands out from the rest?
I’m not concerned about how my wines will stand out from the rest. I just make wines that use my imagination, celebrate cool climate winemaking and focus on the purity of the juice. I built my reputation by being an award winning winemaker and one thing I have always done is not worried about opinions and fads.
What are the rewards in creating your own wines?
The rewards of creating our own brand/wine is the freedom to do what we want and to produce the wines as we see fit. No gimmicky packaging and showing how proud I am to be Japanese on our bottle is very rewarding. I also find it very rewarding that my Dad was able to witness me become a successful winemaker as I was the worst student that you could imagine.
Rugby is one of your other big passions. Are you a good rugby player? Be honest!
Yes, I will say that I was a good rugby player. I played with some great guys at club and representative level. Rugby was a huge part of my life, it allowed me to have stints playing in Japan, New Zealand and Australia. I took away so many things that I learned from rugby that I apply to life and winemaking.
You formed Kanazawa Wines with your wife, Jennifer – what are your roles at the winery?
Jennifer and I are the proprietors of Kanazawa. I am pretty much a one-man-show when it comes to the day to day running of our business. I make and sell the wines in our shop and in Vancouver, Whistler and the Fraser Valley. For us to be successful, Jennifer has to take care of all of us. We have a young family, Ronin (8) and Vivian (5). Now that our youngest is in school, she can begin throwing clay again, as she is a potter. Next year, she will have her work displayed in our wineshop.
You’ll be taking part in the Spirits of Japan fundraiser for Tonari Gumi on October 29th – what will you be serving us that night?
I am looking forward to pouring all six of our wines at the Tonari Gumi Spirits of Japan fundraiser. 2013 Nomu (Viognier/semillon/orange Muscat), 2015 Sakura Rose (Pinot noir), 2013 Merlot, 2012 Raku(syrah/Viognier), 2014 Malbec and 2012 Ronin(merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/petit Verdot/Malbec)
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get into wine beyond just having the occasional glass with dinner?
My advice for aspiring winemakers is to go away, travel the world and do as many vintages as you can. Try to taste as many wines as you can and give positive comments as much as negative comments. And when your in the presence of top winemakers, be quiet and listen.
My advice for people that want to take their wine experience beyond having the occasional glass is to enrol in wine tasting classes. It’s a great time to be interested in wine. There are many courses offered around the city. Form your own tasting groups and head out to the wine events like the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Just make sure you have fun and don’t turn into an annoying wine nerd.