Thomas Kato: It is a Love Affair with Wine

Thomas KatoPhoto Credit: World Red Eye

A novelty that spilled into his life in his late 20s, wine has since matured into one of Thomas Kato’s greatest passions.

More than any other beverage, refined vinos seem to befit Kato’s urbane mien that informs and emanates from his various roles. The Miami resident is an alum of Harvard Business School; a polo player; a property developer for Fortune 100 companies; a philanthropist with proclivity for children’s causes; and founder and CEO of the prominent credit and debit card processing firm Merchant Hub.

Aside from his ventures that leap over international borders, Kato is smart in looks and courtly in conversations, which, once steered into winemaking, reveal not only his vim for the centuries-old craft but also his knowledge of the global industry.

A founding member of Napa Valley Reserve, an exclusive club of the coveted Harlan Estate winery, Kato has delved into the pursuit of squeezing grapes into ambrosial liquids much deeper than an everyday connoisseur. Together with Harlan Estate, whose vineyards crawl over the hilly heart of Napa Valley, Kato is developing his own vintage.

“We are going back in July and we are finishing our blend. We want to make the right blend for a wine that is, at the same time, big and still delicate,” Kato says, expressing his thrill for the first-ever wine to bear his name, Kato Reserve.

The cabernet sauvignon is anticipated to be full-bodied yet delicate, a combination of traits that California reds are famed for and that Kato favors. Slated to launch in 2019, Kato’s wine is to ooze from the 2015 harvest, which experts hail as excellent. It is a crop modest in size but bold in potential thanks to a balmy weather, which Kato noted, is a sound gauge of a vintage’s characteristics—more so than age.

Thomas KatoPhoto Credit: World Red Eye

“I would not really pay attention to how old a wine is,” he says. “I would pay attention to the weather and precipitation of that [vintage] year. It is more important. If it was too much rain, too little rain, just the right amount—that is going to make a big difference. So you can have [a vintage from] 2009 versus 2002 or 2003. [The wine from] 2009 might be better than 2003 in the same terroir. Just because it is older does not make it better.”

With a strong grasp of the intricacies of winemaking, Kato has nurtured inclinations that often buckle the rudiments. A lover of rich chocolate and tobacco flavors, he prefers his red wines cooled. The chill unlocks the taste and smell, which to Kato are equally vital for a great wine.

“The temperature of the wine is a really big deal,” he says. “Most people do not drink red wine at the right temperature. They believe it is supposed to be kept at room temperature. No. Most red wines, I believe, should be stored at mid to low 50s and drunk at the low 60s. That makes a big difference to the wine—the way it opens up, the way it tastes, the texture, the smell.”

When it comes to classic food pairings, Kato is just as unorthodox in his choice. “I personally do not drink white wine with a fish. I prefer red wine,” he says. “So, if I am to have some fish or seafood, I usually drink a lighter red wine. It is more about personal taste rather than dos and don’ts. I prefer my white wine or chardonnay during the day, and in the evenings I prefer red wines no matter what I eat.”

While he heeds his own norms of savoring wine, Kato flaunts a cosmopolitan palate that simply appreciates great vinos. Quoting Robert M. Parker Jr., a prominent wine critic, Kato does not hide his rapture for wine.

“It hits all the senses—you smell it, taste it, feel it,” Kato says. “It is a love affair with wine.”