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It all started with warm memories of visiting his uncle’s restaurant for vigneron Nori Nakamura. His uncle, an opera singer who fell in love with Italian culture, food and wine, is partly to blame for his love of wine.

Tokyo native Nori recalls countless family gatherings at his uncle’s restaurant with bottles of Chianti flowing and everyone having a great time.

His love for wine was reinforced when he visited his brother, who was living in Milan, Italy and working as a designer.

“For the last dinner of my trip my brother took me to a fancy restaurant where the servers were dressed in Armani suits. We ordered a bottle of Barbaresco and it was like all the trip emotions were captured in the glass,” Nori explains with a big grin.

When it came time for him to choose a career, he went with hospitality and ended up working for the Nikko Hotel Group. His stint with the hotel group took him from Kyoto to Osaka and back to Tokyo before bringing him to the United States where he worked for two years at the San Francisco location. But young Nori was driven to continue his passion for wine.

In 2002, he attended the UC Davis for Enology and Viticulture, a program responsible for a large number of winemaker icons like Lee Hudson and John Kongsgaard.

After graduating from the program, he worked at a couple properties including Pine Ridge Vineyards in Stags Leap District, Napa Wine Company in Oakville were he recalls gaining experience with multiple winemakers like one of his favorites, Heidi Barrett. Later, he had a seven-year tenure at Artesa Winery in Carneros were he cut his teeth while planing his own brand.

I met Nori while I was running the beverage program at Morimoto Napa. Aside from his glowing personality, I recall this beautifully balanced Chardonnay made with purpose and finesse. It immediately became of my favorites to share with guests and staff.

Later on in my career, on my first visit to Japan to judge a wine and sake competition I was invited by a number of judges to a California Wine Bar in Shimbashi Tokyo. They insisted I choose the wine and while browsing the list there it was, Noria. I immediately ordered it and felt right at home.

His first release was the 2010 Vintage in which he launched with a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir both from the acclaimed Sangiacomo Vineyard in Sonoma.

His portfolio has slowly grown to include a Sauvignon Blanc and another Pinot Noir that I got to enjoy this week, here the findings from the current offerings.

— 2016 Noria Bevill Family Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley ($24). A citrus party celebration with tension and focus, elegance is its middle name. “I modeled this wine after Daiginjo Sakè” Nori says. There is focus, a bounty of floral aromas and a cleansing quality.

— 2016 Noria Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($30) Generous, creamy and gentle with notes of butterscotch, yellow apple, honey and Meyer lemon zest. I dare you to find a Chardonnay at this price that brings this experience! Nori modeled this wine after Junmai Ginjo Sakè with richness and structure.

— 2017 Noria Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($42) A refreshing and feminine Pinot with tension and razor sharp focus. Aromas are driven by Pomegranate and grapefruit peel complemented by sandalwood and red roses. A pinot noir for pinot noir lovers that enjoy varietal purity and spice.

— 2016 Noria Michael Valentine Vineyard Freestone Russian River Valley ($46) A bundle of Lilacs, black roses with depth and definition. Certainly a muscular and bold representation full of pepper, fresh-roasted coffee and winter spice. A true representation of the site that gives thicker skins and depth to the varietal.

Production on Noria wines dances around the 1,500 cases. To taste, visit Silenus Winery on Solano Avenue in north Napa. It’s also available at restaurants in California and Tokyo including Hana Restaurant in Rohnert Park, Iyasare in Berkeley and Village Sakè in Marin. Cheers!

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Eduardo can be reached at eduardo@sakedrinker.com.

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