Ten years ago, the idea of inviting someone to drink Chinese wine is probably the equivalent to serving leftover chicken wings on a Christmas eve. Granted there’s no shortage of acerbic plonk churned out by volume-driven producers that sit at the bottom of supermarket shelves gathering dust. It takes an extremely adventurous soul to venture into that miserable isle to fish out a bottle of Chinese wine in France or UK if you are lucky to find one.
What you probably did not know though is that China, with a land mass almost twice of EU and same as the US, has the second biggest surface area under vine (855 kha) just behind Spain.
Its wine growing regions are vast and each has its unique growing conditions. Admittedly, its wine production is dominated by big producers such as the country’s oldest winery Changyu Wine Pioneer and state-owned GreatWall Winery. What’s less reported and talked about is the new generation of winemakers who are crafting terroir-driven and quality wines that are gaining popularity among middle-class urbanites who much like their counterparts in the US are propping up its vast domestic wine industry.
From northwest Xinjiang bordering Mongolia and Kazakhstan to eastern Shandong province across Japan to Ningxia at the edge of Gobi Desert, the country’s wine regions are extensive. It ranks as the world’s 7th biggest wine producer by volume, and currently the fifth biggest wine consumer.
Interest for Chinese wine exploded especially when Leading French companies including DBR Lafite, which owns Bordeaux firth growth Chateau Lafite Rothschild and the luxury group LVMH ventured into China, setting up premium wineries producing local wines for the market.
In the southwestern Yunnan province bordering Vietnam, Ao Yun, the premium Chinese wine made by luxury group LVMH, is literally and figuratively taking Chinese wines to new height. Its high-altitude, Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend is made in vineyards located over 2000 meters above sea level. It also became the first Chinese wine traded in secondary markets and retails for about RMB 3,000 a bottle.
The upcoming talk On July 7 organized by Vino Joy News, Ethica Wines and Stuiokom, is aptly titled “Unconventional Chinese Terroir”. Our goal is to explore the diversity of Chinese terroir, its potential to produce world-class wines and the growth of domestic wine production especially at a time when there’s a national campaign that urges Chinese to drink Chinese wine.
The talk will have a star-studded panel consisting of myself, Emma Gao, owner and winemaker of Silver Heights in Ningxia, Maxence Dulou, winemaker of LVMH’s Ao Yun in Yunnan province, Yean Yean Lee, winemaker of Shanxi-based Grace Vineyard, Clara Wang, director of Puchang Vineyard in Xinjiang and Lionel de Gal of Vin Essential.
If you are interested in joining the panel for the discussion, you can email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or click on the Zoom link here to watch the live talk directly at 4pm Hong Kong time.
Now, meet your panelists below:
Natalie Wang, wine journalist, Hong Kong
Natalie Wang is a Hong Kong-based wine journalist. Born in Chongqing, China, Wang obtained her Master’s degree in Journalism at Hong Kong University. She honed her journalist skills with International Herald Tribune, Thomson Reuters, and JNA magazine. She has worked in the wine industry for more than five years, previously with American wine critic James Suckling and later with the drinks business Hong Kong as its managing editor. Since May 2019, Wang founded her own media company Vino Joy News, extensively covering the wine market in China.
Emma Gao, Silver Heights (Ningxia)
Trained in Bordeaux, Emma Gao is a humble and passionate winemaker who aspires to make her father’s 1999 dream come true: Make Ningxia a world-class wine region. Under her guidance, Silver Heights has developed and become a leading winery for producing quality Chinese wine and non-intervention organic wine production. She also combines the ancient Chinese idea of harmony (Wuxing / Solar Terms / Yin Yang) with the philosophy of organic production in her winemaking philosphy. The winery’s top cuvee Family Reserve 2009 till today is still the highest rated Chinese wine by British wine writer Jancis Robinson, and her Family Reserve Chardonnay 2017 was selected by Chinese President Xi Jinping to serve French president Marcon on his state visit last year.
Maxence Dulou, LVMH Ao Yun (Yunnan)
Ao Yun, which means ‘flying above the clouds’ in English is the first premium wine produced by luxury giant LVMH and also the first Chinese wine to be traded on secondary markets. Produced in the foothills of the Himalayas, near the legendary city of Shangri-La, Ao Yun is the fruit of an exceptional adventure that pushes the frontiers in winemaking, by creating a wine estate in a previously unexplored terroir. Ao Yun vineyards range in altitude from 2,200 to 2,600 meters, enabling the Cabernet Sauvignon grape to express the full refinement of this unique terroir. Its first vintage 2013 was released in 2017, and the wine retails for about RMB 3,000 in mainland China.
Yean Yean Lee, Grace Vineyard (Shanxi & Ningxia)
Born and raised in Malaysia, Yean Yean Lee joined Grace Vineyard in 2006 and by 2014 he was overseeing the entire wine production for this Shanxi-based family winery. Under Yean’s leadership, Grace Vineyard’s Marselan was awarded the coveted accolade of Platinum by Decanter Asia Wine Awards. For Yean, his challenge is to ensure consistency of wine style for each vintage, and he is always on a request to find the best plot for different varietals.
Clara Wang, Puchang Vineyard (Xinjiang)
An oasis in the desert, Puchang Vineyard was first established in 1975 in Turpan Valley in northwest China’s Xinjiang province. Puchang region shares the same latitude with some of the best wine-making regions in the world. The owner, Hong Kong businessman K.K. Cheung re-built Puchang in 2008 with the belief that the landscape of Xinjiang and a focus in wine-making will create favorable conditions for the production of high-quality organic wine.
Clara Wang, the eldest daughter in the family, today serves as the director of Puchang. Born in mainland China, raised in Hong Kong and Canada, Wang worked for the United Nations World Food Programme for 14 years before she returned to Hong Kong in 2016. She strives to promote Puchang and its products for both domestic and international platforms.
Lionel Le Gal, Vin Essential
Born in Paris, Lionel le Gal has been living in Shanghai, China for over 15 years. He has worked closely in the wine business mainly focusing on distribution of wines for foreign and local companies. He has travelled to many of China’s wine regions in Shanxi, Shandong, Ningxia and Yunnan, organizing and guiding tour trips.