Sato Wines: from Passion Project to Cult Icon

by James Pryor

The story of Yoshiaki and Kyoko Sato begins in the early 2000’s amidst the bustling world of international banking. The husband-and-wife team both had thriving careers based in Japan and London, and they seemed destined for continuing success. However, a passion had taken root, one which urged them to step away from their field, into quite literally, a new one. Yoshiaki explains: “I loved wines. And I could not help stop feeling that I wanted to make wines by myself. And I believed Japan was not good place to grow wine grapes. I needed to learn more." 

Their quest for knowledge led them to France, where they worked vintages for esteemed winemakers like Pierre Frick, Philippe Pacalet, Christian Binner, Domaine Bizot, and Domaine Matassa, growing their understanding of and love for modern, low-intervention winemaking.

In 2006, they chose New Zealand as their new home and pursued a graduate diploma in viticulture & viniculture at Lincoln University; eventually settling in Central Otago and gaining more hands-on experience at organic estates Felton Road and Mount Edward.


In 2009, Sato Wines was born, with Yoshiaki and Koyoko as négoce winemakers - sourcing organic grapes from around Central Otago - producing elegant, focussed wines that quickly gained acclaim locally and abroad. In 2016 they established their own Domaine - 'La Ferme de Sato'; planting Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc on bare land. This vineyard has been farmed biodynamically since inception and is tended to entirely by hand. Their first La Ferme vintage was 2019. 

Today, Sato are recognised as not just one of the founders of the natural wine movement in New Zealand, but as one of the country’s best producers. Among other accolades, Sato’s 2019 ‘L’Insolite’ Pinot Noir was recently declared the fourth best wine in New Zealand by international wine critic James Suckling. Their wines are rightly iconic, sought-after around the world, often selling out completely on allocation.

Key to Sato’s winemaking philosophy is patience, and minimal intervention. Yoshiaki emphasizes, "Watch carefully, just do what is necessary. Believe what the grapes originally have and the wines are trying to express by themselves."

Yoshiaki reflects on beginning their winemaking process with strong principles: "Biodynamic and organic has always been important because we should avoid doing something bad for the soil as much as we can. Wine is all about microbiology in soil, which we should not disturb."


The Satos view their vineyard as an invaluable teacher. "We are learning from our vineyard every day. That is a continuous process. We do not know what is coming out from the continuous efforts.”

As to the future of natural winemaking in New Zealand, Yoshiaki believes the best winemakers will continue to stand out by embodying their own principles.  “More and more wineries may start to make this sort of wines as a part of their product lines”, Sato predicts, “but there should be still very rare to make this sort of wines with solid philosophy. Sato is making natural wines as the part of their life. Natural winemaking is part of us. So all the wines of Sato are natural wines.”

Tasting Notes:

2020 La Ferme De Sato ‘Sur Les Nuages’ Pinot Noir
Lightness, restraint and tight, fine acidity belie a complexity that sneaks up on the palate - firm, dark fruits with a herbal, coffee undercurrent. The finish is incredibly long and satisfying.

2020 La Ferme De Sato ‘Le Chant du Vent’ Chardonnay 
Golden-hued with classic citrus, stonefruit and melon, bread and butter, shot through with a racy acidity and a lingering, wet-stone finish.

2020 La Ferme de Sato 'Schisteux' Chenin Blanc

Rich and powerful on the nose, this continues through to the palate. Quince, pineapple, stonefruit. The skin-ferment provides beguiling, oxidative honeyed complexity on the finish. Intense, bursting with energy. One to savour!

2020 La Ferme de Sato 'Sous Bois' Cabernet Franc
The joy of Sous Bois lies in Sato's careful balancing act. While big and ripe - bursting with dark red fruit, cacao and coffee - it's also restrained and stark in finish, juicy and mineral.

2022 Sato 'L'Atypique' Orange Pinot Gris

A deft, expressive and finely-tuned orange wine. Florals, baked apple, blood orange, salty and fine-grained tannins. A zippy and refreshing wine, excellent with or without food.

2022 Sato 'L'Atypique' Orange Riesling

Rich and golden-hued in the glass, this is a light and delicate orange wine. Textured, pithy, citrus and savoury; with flinty minerality and energetic, juicy acidity. Classic riesling fruit-and-stone notes underpinned by fine-grained, well-integrated tannins.