Small Forest by Atsuko ‘Japanese’ wine in the Hunter Valley

Small Forest Wines by Atsuko are a must visit, must taste, must buy next time you head to the Hunter Valley.

Most people who know anything about wine knows Australia exports millions of dollars worth to Japan. A record $AUD 55 million in 2019 to be precise, according to wineaustralia.com

Atsuko Radcliffe at Small Forest Wines
Atsuko Radcliffe at her winery © Small Forest Wines

But who knew a Japanese wine maker has her own label right here in the Upper Hunter Valley? Creating classic regional varietals that have established a deserved reputation for consistent quality.

Winemaker Atsuko Radcliffe, nee Kobayashi, first began winemaking back home in Japan more than thirty years ago. She was also the first female winemaker in Japan. She traveled to gain knowledge and improve her skills to France, California and Australia.

In a life-changing move, she arrived for a stint working with Rosemount Estate in 1999. She liked it so much in the Denman area that she stayed for several years initially.

Winemaker Atsuko Radcliffe in the Small Forest Wines vineyards
Hunter Valley vineyards have suffered from drought, bushfires and COVID closures, but Atsuko is still smiling © Small Forest Wines

Then an opportunity came to return home and gain hands on experience making sake, at one of the most respected brewers in Japan, Urakasumi in Miyagi, northern Honshu. So she was lured her away from Rosemount.

She spent two seasons brewing sake, which helped land her a job as a sake judge at the International Wine Challenge. She sees a natural fusion between the wine and sake industries.

Denman had won her over, and when the opportunity came to produce her own signature line she seized it with enthusiasm.

The name ‘Small Forest’ derives from her family name Kobayashi. She normally bottles Chardonnay, Verdelho, Rosé and Shiraz.

Small Forest by Atsuko Wines Verdelho
‘Japanese’ wines from the Hunter Valley .. © Small Forest Wines

Times have not been helpful recently, to put it mildly.

The crippling drought means that even in Atsuko’s just over 20 years in the upper Hunter Valley she has seen the climate change to require earlier harvesting.

Then the bushfires in January smoke-tainted the grapes so Small Forest chose not to produce a vintage at all.

Then just when it finally started raining again, enter COVID-19. The subsequent NSW lockdown saw the Small Forest Cellar Door closed in April and May.

Finally things are getting back to normal. The Cellar Door is open 10am to 4pm on weekends, bookings is essential, to 6547 2699.

Apart from wine tasting you can also enjoy monthly sake tastings with Atsuko, who is a Panel Chair Judge at The International Wine Challenge, Sake Division.

The Small Forest cellar door art gallery features a new exhibition every two months from local artists.

Small Forest by Atsuko Wines 2016 Shiraz
Can you beat a Hunter Shiraz? © Small Forest

Atsuko has received several awards recognising her efforts beyond the wine industry.

She was selected as a one of 55 Working Women in the World by Forbes Japan, and also the recipient of one of 30 ‘Bridge Women’ for the Japanese Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Office in 2017. 

In October 2018 she was a speaker for 56th Australia-Japan business conference in Sydney, then in December 2018 Atsuko received the Japanese Consul General’s Commendation for extraordinary work for her understanding and furthering of relations between Japan and Australia.

Denman and the Upper Hunter is a lovely place, so drive up and drop in to say Kon’nichiwa soon! Here at Japanezy.com we are divided between the ladies’ favourite Small Forest by Atsuko Chardonnay and the Shiraz. Better get a case of both..

Where is Small Forest by Atsuko Wines? Right on the Golden Highway, Denman.

Check out more on their website