It looks like natural wine movement has found an ally in one of China’s most powerful oenologists, professor Li Hua, who is now the country’s most vocal advocate for natural wine.
Speaking at today’s 17th Annual Conference of the Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology (CIFST) held in northwestern city, Xi’an, Li urged winemakers in China to make low-intervention and chemical-free natural wines because “the future direction of the wine industry lies in natural wines.”
Li, a heavyweight in China’s wine industry, founded the country’s first viticulture and oenology school and is a lifetime honorary dean of northwest A&F university’s viticulture and enology department.
Having spent nearly 40 years modernizing winemaking in China, he is lauded as as “Father of modern Chinese wine”.
Li’s most vocal support yet for natural wines came around the time when the country is rallying support to promote domestic wine industry amid declining domestic wine production and foreign wine imports.
China at the moment ranks as the world’s 7th biggest wine producer but its wine production volume has been shrinking in recent years, with 2019 vintage dropping to record low of 4.51 million hectolitres.
Earlier in June, Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Ningxia, China’s premier wine region, and made a point to stop by wineries and vineyards. The move was seen by industry insiders as a “shot in the arm” for the country’s afflicted wine industry.
The 61-year-old oenologist in his speech says natural wine will help ensure a sustainable and high-quality wine production in the country. According to him, the rapid development of global wine industry is partly a result of the scientific research and use of yeast cultivation, but the standardization of winemaking has also become a double-edged sword.
What followed is that large scale wineries are able to produce formulated and industrial wines. However, this type of winemaking method created “homogenization of their wines and a lack of characteristics,” he lamented.
What needs to be done, as he says is to “make innovations in viticulture and winemaking”, namely creating biodiversity in winegrowing environment, and reduce intervention and chemical use in the cellar.
Though natural wine itself lacks clear definition, it’s generally agreed it’s made from grapes organically/biodynamically grown without using cultivated yeast or going through filtration.
“In winemaking, it should be as natural as possible, with less artificial intervention and chemical additives. The natural wine that comes out of this will reflect the original varietal characteristics, terroir and its natural flavors,” he asserts before making a bold statement that “the future of wine industry lies in natural wine”.
It’s not known how many wineries in China are practicing organic, biodynamic or natural winemaking philosophy. Biodynamics employs organic practices but goes a step further by following a specific astronomic calendar. Natural wine, which can be a divisive subject in the wine world, lacks clear definition but is generally regarded as the “anti-establishment” category that is made without any additives.
In last two years or so, producers and consumers are warming up to organic and natural wines. In Northwestern Xinjiang and Ningxia provinces or even Inner Mongolia, wineries have been embracing the idea of making organic wines such as Silver Heights, Puchang Vineyard, Tiansai Vineyards to name a few.
The country hosted its first natural wine festival last year in its de facto wine capital Shanghai, and natural wine bars are mushrooming out in more developed cities as people’s tastes diversify.