India, between challenges and (beautiful) discoveries

Arriving from Paris with Saudia – an airline that I highly recommend by the way for the unmatched comfort of its economy class – I looked forward to stepping on Indian soil for the first time to discover its vineyards!

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As soon as I landed in Bombay, the atmosphere of the city electrified me. The smell of spices in the air, the overpowering heat, the incessant ballet of cars in the streets and the horn concerts, make the most populous city of India a unique place.
On the way to a colorful visit, in a country where viticulture only really started in the 1970s, and which today counts 90 wineries for about 20 million liters produced last year.

A booming viticulture, leaded by Sula Vineyards

It was with some members of the Asian Wines Producers Association (AWPA) – Denis Gastin (Founder, wine writer), Sumedh Mandla (President) and Visooth Lohitnavy (CEO of GranMonte, Thailand), as well as with Sumit Jaiswal (Marketing Manager, Grover Zampa, India) and Professor Charoen Charoenchai of Thailand, that I had the pleasure of traveling in India. A very nice team!

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After a 3-hours drive, we arrived in Nashik, in the northeast of Bombay, the country’s main wine-producing region with 40 estates. A plateau perched at 680 meters above sea level, known above all for its production of fruit and vegetables (n °1 in the cultivation of onions, for example).

Wine production in India is mainly divided between three wine-growing regions(1): Nasik and Pune on the west coast, two regions in Maharashtra State (80% of Indian vineyards) and Bangalore , in the south, in Karnataka State (10% of the vineyards).

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With 120,000 hectares of vines in 2015 and an area that has doubled in fifteen years, the Indian vineyard is booming.

We were expected at Sula, India’s leading wine producer, with 60% of the market share. Perhaps you have had the opportunity to taste one of their wines? You know, these labels with a logo so characteristic with the shape of a sun with a mustache! Although difficult to access (Indian roads are sometimes in poor condition and lack road signs), the success story of Sula forces admiration. With no fewer than 250,000 visitors a year, this precursor in oenotourism has understood everything. Its annual music festival – the Sulafest – with an international program (more than 120 artists performing over a period of three days), is a model of the genre. Not to mention the nice restaurant and the 35 rooms of the domain.

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On the wine side, however, I wondered. A large part of the Sula grapes (as with the majority of the Indian estates, as we shall see below) is bought from the farmers of the region. How, then, to ensure quality grapes? Especially with such an important production.
“The policy of Sula is strict,” we were told. “If the farmers do not bring the grapes on the right date, they have penalties: this prevents clusters from being harvested too early”. A necessary initiative for a good final result : the wines are well made.

Making wine in India is a challenge

Let us not forget that the cultivation of vines in India remains above all a challenge. The tropical climate of the country, with a dry season – where temperatures can easily exceed 40°C, and a rainy season – during which the vegetative cycle of the vine is severely tested, make it an extreme production site. There are two harvests per year (the most qualitative being in April, during the dry period).

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Two prunings are also required. The first just before the rain in May and the second, more precise, after the summer monsoons, for vine growth programmed from October to March.

In addition, wine taxation systems vary from one state of the country to another. A real paradox, illustrated by the Grover Zampa estate, wich have two production sites (Nashik and Bangalore) – each one with its own vineyards. In 2012, a merger took place between Grover (in Bangalore) and a wine company from Nashik, to avoid taxes on the price of bottles between the two states (more than 1/3 of the final sale price).
Moreover, protectionism on agricultural land forces producers to sublet land to neighboring farmers to expand and supply themselves with grapes. However, in order to control the quality of viticulture, estates take long-term leases on land belonging to local farmers (20 years, with a 15-year renewal option).

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Add to this the fact that India is not a country of wine tradition : its inhabitants consuming 9 milliliters per person per year (compared to 42 liters(2) in France). And to top it off, not only is alcohol prohibited in many states ; but in addition, advertising of wine is prohibited in India. All these factors could be discouraging.

However, this is not the case at all! The enthusiasm of the wineries visited is palpable and pleasing to see. And although it seems that globally the climate is more suitable for white wines, the quality is there and some Indian cuvées frankly deserve to be highlighted in all colors, sparkling wines included.

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Five delicious Indian wines discovered and which I highly recommend :
Insignia 2015, from Grover Zampa (“Coup de cœur Wine Explorers“ – 100% Syrah – Bangalore)
Sparkling Cuvée NM, from York (100% Chenin Blanc – Nasik)
Réserve Collection Viognier 2015, from Grover Zampa (Bangalore)
Sauvignon Blanc 2016, from York (Nasik)
Dindori Réserve Viognier 2016, from Sula

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Bangalore, a region of predilection for white wines

After waking up at dawn and 1h30 on a plane, direction Bangalore, to the south, we encountered a drastic change upon our exit from the plane! No more urban pollution and the hubbub of the city. We even heared the birds singing. The traffic was calm. Bitumen roads, wide and flat. And a lush vegetation.

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Welcome to the “silicone valley” of India, a region with dazzling economic prosperity. There, we visited Grover Zampa, the country’s second biggest winery and a great example of fine Indian wines. The first vines were planted in the mid-1980s (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chenin Blanc). And the estate is consulted by the French oenologist Michel Roland.

Some parcels of Grover Zampa 180-hectares vineyard reach over 1,000 meters above sea level. As a result : temperated days (26 to 28°C) and cooler nights.

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The day before, we visited their vineyards in the region of Nasik (40 hectares). Since the wine range is identical in the two regions, it was possible to immediately and indisputably realize the difference in profile between the wines. The altitude of Bangalore – combined with clay-silty soils – offer tense wines, more aromatic and more complex, particularly noticeable in the whites.

It was the end of January and a plot of Sauvignon Blanc had just been harvested that morning. 70% of the harvesting was done by women. Hand sorting of the grapes followed – demanding control that benefits the production, with elegant wines on the whole.

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York Winery, a family story

On the other hand, more and more small family structures, such as York Winery, are emerging. York is a project initiated by the Indian Lilo Gurnani in 2003, at a time when he developed a passion for wine and began to read a lot on the subject. Born in Nasik, he wanted to follow the growing wine movement in his region. He named his domain YORK, taking the initials of his three children, Yogita, Ravi & Kailash. A whole symbol.

Today, two of them have taken over the reins. We met with Kailash Gurnani, one of the sons and director and chief oenologist of the estate (having studied at the University of Adelaide).

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“If our brand is recognized today, it is because we are a family business. This is our story and we are the faces behind it. That’s our marketing strategy”, he explained. Adding : “with a family management, we also ensure a better control over our wines”.

The Indian wine industry is therefore beautiful and well expanding. But also at the heart of many debates. What does the future hold for this young sector with so many constraints?

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“The wine industry is growing steadily at a rate of 10-15%, and this growth could be much greater if other states in India become accessible to sell wine”, according to Kailash. Out of 1.2 billion people, less then 100 million people in India can be tapped. Having said that, the current increase in wine tourism is very encouraging and men & women of all ages are enjoying wine.

In conclusion of this most rewarding journey, Denis Gastin and I visited the mountains of Nandi Hills, 30 km from Bangalore, to meditate a bit on the discoveries of the week. Some intrepid monkeys eventually came to keep us company.

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India intrigues me now more than ever and I wonder. In a country five times bigger than France, whose cultural diversity, landscapes, gastronomy, climate and language change on average every 100km, I know I will have to come back to discover and enjoy more of it, visiting other regions and other wineries. I am already delighted.

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

 

Thank you to Sula Vineyards, Grover Zampa et York Winery for their warm welcome and this first unforgettable visit to India.
Thanks to my friend Denis Gastin and the AWPA (Asian Wine Producers Association), for their kind help in organizing this trip.

(1) Production is also emerging in Hyderabad (central Telangana State), as well as in the states of Andra Pradesh (south), and Himachal Pradesh (in the north). (Source : http://www.suddefrance-developpement.com)
(2) Vin & Société estimation

A Grand Annual Tasting 2016 full of surprises!

Back from a second year of exploration of the wine planet, suitcases full of bottles –  one more intriguing than the other – we were impatient to share our discoveries with 120 fine wine connoisseurs!

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It was a difficult choice for the selection, with a final list of 35 wines from 14 countries (1). True heart strokes for some wines, nice curiosities coming from climates both extreme and diverse, each wine tasted on June 13, deserves special attention for its quality and unique personality.
To follow is the summary of a tasting far away from the beaten tracks, organized on the beautiful terrace of Duclot-La Vinicole.

(Northern) Europe seduces with the freshness of its wines

A Swedish white wine on top of the ranking, followed by a Belgian wine, was the first highlight of the tasting!
Made from interspecific varieties (cf. PIWI) – 100% Solaris for Hällåkra Vingard in Sweden and 100% Mossiat for the Belgium Château de Bioul – these wines have “seduced with their freshness and surprised with their aromatic potential”. And although these new varieties (still unknown to the general public), can sometimes lack complexity, they could – thanks to their high resistance to cold – rapidly become the future solution for “Northern” climates, where harsh winters and a lack of sunshine make the production of Vitis vinifera wines (very) complicated.

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Speaking about red wines, Slovakia and Austria are two European nations to follow closely. The Slovak “Cuvée 2012” from Mrva & Stanko (made of 4 indigenous varietals: Hron/Vah/Rimava/Rudava) & 100% Blaufraenkisch “Alte Reben 2011” from J. Heinrich have been described as “providing immediate pleasure with a lot of finesse and an elegant and complex tannic structure”.

TOP 5 – WHITE WINES
1 – Sweden : “Solaris 2014“, from Hällåkra Vingård
2 – Hungary (Tokaj) : “Muskotály Réserve 2003“, from Château Dereszla
3 – Indonesia (Bali) : “Aga White 2016“, from Hatten Wines
4 – Belgium (Côtes de Sambre et Meuse) : “Mossiat 2014“, from Château de Bioul
5 – Hungary (Tokaj) : “Tokaj Szamorodni Sec 2007“, from Samuel Tinon

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Exotic destinations in front of the scene

Who would have believed it?… Two Balinese wines on the podium: undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the tasting!
Imagine Bali (the only wine region of Indonesia): a tropical country where one can harvest up to 3 times a year, where the vineyard has no dormancy period, where it is never less than 23 ° C in winter and where the vines do not live more than 12 years, because of incessant labor…
Yet the wines “made in Bali” have astonished many guests. Described as “very aromatic, pleasant on the palate and with a certain freshness”, these wines showed that with suitable grape varieties (here Belgia and Muscat St Vallier), advanced technology and specific expertise, it is technically possible to make good wines here.

The top 50 studios pics of the tasting !

The top 50 studios pics of the tasting !


As for Brazil, an increasingly recognized destination, with varied climates (equatorial in the north, continental-temperate in the south), it is a country where great “terroirs“ are emerging. As in the Valle dos Vinhedos in the south, where the “Quorum 2006” from Lidio Carraro (40% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tannat, 15% Cabernet Franc) was unanimously recognized as incredibely elegante.

The production of sparkling wines of high quality is booming worldwide

Germany, England, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Hungary… all these countries have something in common: they play in the big leagues in terms of production of sparkling wines.
Blind tasted around a game that consisted of finding the country of origin (not that easy…), seven sparkling wines, all from different countries, have literally amazed our guests!

JBA with John Leroy, winemaker @ Ruffus Estate (Belgium)

JBA with John Leroy, winemaker @ Ruffus Estate (Belgium)


In fact, more and more wineries, located in regions of the world with suitable terroirs – predominantly calcareous/chalky soils and cool/temperate climates – prove that with suitable varieties, grapes harvested with good maturity, using the traditional method (2) and with long and rigorous ageing, it is possible to produce fantastic bubbles around the world – able to compete with the French production, for example.
Even Bali moved up on the podium with it’s Moscato d’Bali from Sababay, an aromatic and slightly sweet sparkling wine.

TOP 3 – SPARKLING WINES
1-Belgium (Wallonie) : “Cuvée Franco Dragone 2011“, from Ruffus
2 – Brazil (Serra Gaucha) : “Terroir Nature – SAFRA 2009“, from Cave Geisse
3 – Indonesia (Bali) : “Moscato d’Bali 2015“, from Sababay
Special mention : England (Kent) : “Blanc de Blancs 2010“, from Gusbourne

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[NB : congratulations to Paul Dunleavy, from Te Motu (NZ), the only guest at the blind tasting who identified the origins of the 7 sparkling wines!]

Hungary honored and present in all categories

Hungary was in all conversations on 13 June. First with the famous Tokaj region and its sweet wines : 260g of residual sugar for the delicious “Muskotály Réserve 2003“ from Château Dereszla of which remained not a single drop!
But also with dry white wine, like the amazing “Szamorodni Sec 2007” from Samuel Tinon : a wine made from botrytis grapes, fermented in open tanks without residual sugar (unique in the world)… a wine of meditation.

THE TEAM !!

THE TEAM !!


Lesser known than other Hungarian wine regions, Etyek-Buda (25 minutes west of Budapest), with its mild continental climate, turned towards the production of juicy Pinot Noir wines in recent years. A nice example : the “Pinot Noir 2013“ from Etyeki Kuria – n°1 red wine of the tasting. Again, a nice surprise!

TOP 5 – RED WINES
1 – Hungary (Etyek-Buda) : “Pinot Noir 2013“, from Etyeki Kuria
2 – New Zealand (Waiheke Island) : “Bordeaux Blend 1999“, from Te Motu
3 – Australia (Tasmania) : “Cab. Sauvignon/Merlot 2000“, from Freycinet
4 – Brazil (Serra Gaucha) : “Quorum 2006“, from Lidio Carraro
5 – Austria (Burgenland) : “Alte Reben 2011“, from J. Heinrich
Special mention : 
 “Cuvée 2012“, from Mrva & Stanko – Slovakia

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Oceania never ceases to surprise

We all agree, Australia and New Zealand don’t have to gain one’s spurs.
However, two regions particularly intrigued us by their cool climate, particularly suitable for the production of long ageing “Bordeaux style“ wines:
-Tasmania (South of Australia), with the “Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2000“, from Freycinet Winery, a model of elegance and freshness ;
-and Waiheke Island, in New Zealand (near Auckland), where the “Bordeaux Blend 1999” from Te Motu (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc), 2nd on the podium and WINE EXPLORERS’ Heart Stroke, impressed with its vitality and youthfulness.
Finally, our guests said they tasted some of the most finest Syrah from Hawke’s Bay (north of New Zealand), home of real Syrah gems like the great “Jewelstone Syrah 2013” from Mission Estate, as well as from Australia, with  “Syrahmi Dreams… 2012“ from Adam Foster and “Basket Press Shiraz 2011“ from Rockford Wines, without forgetting a legendary Grenache, with “The Tri-Centenary 2008“ from Yalumba.

The wine planet (still) remains to be discovered…

WineExplorers’cheers,
Amandine Fabre & Jean-Baptiste Ancelot

 

Thank you to Jean-Luc Lavatine and the team of Duclot-La Vinicole for having made available this beautiful place for our Annual Tasting.
Thank you to all producers for having participated in this event by offering us the wines. We were also very touched by the presence in Paris, on June 13, of some wineries which came to support the event : Hatten Wines (Bali), Ruffus (Belgium), Sababay (Bali), J. Heinrich (Austria), Te Motu (New Zealand) and the Château de Bioul.
Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who participated in the success of this beautiful evening : Catherine Ancelot-Savignac (who also prepared a wonderful buffet!), Prune Meunier, Ode Coyac, Alexandra Schneider, Clara Laurent, Victory Dauviau ; as well as Amandine Fabre, Ludovic Pollet and Stephane Diné from the WINE Explorers’ team.
 

(1) Complete list of the 35 wines presented on June 13 for the Grand Annual Tasting :
1 – Indonesia (Bali) : “Aga White 2016“, from Hatten Wines – Bali
2 – Belgium (Côtes de Sambre et Meuse) : “Mossiat 2014“, from Château de Bioul
3 – Sweden (Skåne) : “Solaris 2014“, from Hällåkra Vingård
4 – Belgium (Heuvelland) : “Pinot 2015“, from Entre Deux Monts
5 – Switzerland (Mont-sur-Rolle) : “Clos du Couvent 2009“, from Domaine de Maison Blanche
6 – Austria (Wachau) : “Smaragd Singerriedel 2014“, from Domäne Wachau
7 – Czech Republic (Moravia) : “Sonberk Riesling V.O.C. 2013“, from SONBERK
8 – Australia (Eden Valley) : “Heggies Vineyard Riesling 2005“, from Heggies Vineyard (Yalumba)
9 – Germany (Rheingau) : “Riesling Alte Reben QBA trocken 2005“, from SCHLOSS VOLLRADS
10 – Australia (Tasmania) : “Freycinet Riesling 2003“, from Freycinet Vineyard
11 – Hungary (Tokaj) : “Furmint Sparkling Wine 2011“, from Gróf Degenfeld
12 – England (Kent) : “Blanc de Blancs 2010“, from Gusbourne
13 – Brazil (Serra Gaucha) : “Terroir Nature – cuvée SAFRA 2009“, from Cave Geisse
14 – Belgium (Wallonie) : “Cuvée Franco Dragone Prestige 2011“, from Ruffus
15 – Germany (Rheingau) : “Riesling Sekt Extra Brut 2003“, from SCHLOSS VOLLRADS
16 – Indonesia (Bali) : “Moscato d’Bali 2015“, from Sababay Winery
17 – Australia (Barossa) : “Sparkling Black Shiraz NV“, from Rockford Wines
18 – Hungary (Tokaj) : “Kabar 2013“, from Chateau Dereszla
19 – Hungary (Tokaj) : “Tokaj Szamorodni Sec 2007“, from Samuel Tinon
20 – Hungary (Tokaj) : “Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008“, from Gróf Degenfeld
21 – Hungary (Tokaj) : “Muskotály Réserve 2003“, from Vinotéka Dereszla
22 – Denmark : “Utopia Rondo 2006“, from Kelleris Vin
23 – Austria (Burgenland) : “Alte Reben 2011“, from Weingut Heinrich
24 – Hungary (Sopron) : “Kékfrankos 2013“, from Etyeki Kúria Winery
25 – Austria (Burgenland) : “St. Laurent Schafleiten 2013“, from Judith Beck
26 – Slovakia : “Cuvée 2012 (Hron/Váh/Rimava/Rudava)“, from Víno Mrva & Stanko
27 – Brazil (Serra Gaucha) : “Quorum 2006“, from Lidio Carraro
28 – New Zealand (Waiheke Island) : “Bordeaux Blend 1999“, from Te Motu
29 : Australia (Tasmania) : “Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2000“, from Freycinet Winery
30 – Slovakia : “Pinot Noir 2013“, from Víno Tajna
31 – Hungary (Etyek-Buda) : “Pinot Noir 2013“, from Etyeki Kuria Winery
32 – Australia (Barossa) : “Tricentenary Grenache 2008“, from Yalumba
33 – New Zealand (Hawke’s Bay) : “Jewelstone Syrah 2013“, from Mission Estate Winery
34 – Australia (Heathcote) : “Dreams…2012“, from Syrahmi Estate (Adam Foster)
35 – Australia (Barossa) : “Basket Press Shiraz 2011“, from Rockford Wines 

(2) The so-called classic way (though not the oldest) to produce sparkling wine is popularly known as the Champagne method or méthode classique which is the official EU designation. The wine is fermented once in the barrel and then undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle.

Bali, escape warranty

During my studies in Bordeaux, I remember having heard at a tasting that wine is produced in Bali. « Impossible! », I said at the time, the location is too wet. However…

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The “Island of the Gods” as it is nicknamed, is not only a fantastic world known tourist destination. It can also reveal very nice wine surprises. So we were off for a week of unprecedented exploration with some holiday tunes… to our delight!

A vineyard of extreme weather conditions

Imagine : a tropical country where one can harvest up to 3 times a year, where the vineyard has no dormancy period, where it is never less than 23 ° C in winter and where the vines do not live more than 12 years, because of incessant labor… Welcome to Bali, the only wine region of Indonesia!

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And although its history is young, since it began in 1994 with Hatten Wines ; the wine “made in Bali” really exist!
But then the question arrises, why would one make wine in such conditions? « Firstly, because importing wine is complex in Indonesia. And above all because tourists want to taste local wines when they are in Bali », James Kalleske (1), the oenologist of Hatten Wines explained.

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And one has to admit that the quality of Balinese wines is undeniable. « Quality is no longer a question in 2015 ; the wines are technically well made. It is rather a matter of acceptance of the taste of our wines because the grape varieties are different, as Belgia », added Maryse LaRocque (2), in charge of Hatten’s development.

Some nice Balinese wines to discover during your holidays :
Moscato d’Bali from Sababay Winery (100% Muscat de Saint Vallier (3))
Aga White NM (100% Belgia) from Hatten Wines
White Velvet from Sababay Winery (100% Muscat de Saint Vallier)
Pino de Bali from Hatten Wines (60% Belgia, 40% Alphonse Lavallé ; aged 5 years in Solera (4))

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Sababay Winery, the new Balinese estate

Started only five years ago, Sababay Winery is both a childhood dream and a citizens’ initiative for Evy Gozali. « We chose to work with local farmers by purchasing their grapes, in order to allow them to have a better living », Evy said.
How? By buying their production at 5,000 rupees per kilogram (against 500 rupees in the past) and by setting up aids so that the children can attend school.

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In the interests of organic development, farmers are also required to have at least one cow per vineyard for the production of compost.
A nice philosophy when bearing the fragility of the Balinese ecosystem in mind. Because even though Bali evokes primarily images of landscapes worthy of the most beautiful postcards – white sanded beaches, volcanic reliefs covered by forests or hillside rice fields – let’s not forget that many Balinese are still living in precarious conditions.

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Anecdotally, some farmers with whom Sababay Winery works are Muslims (5) who cultivate the vines without knowing the final product, since they do not drink wine! It is therefore difficult for them to understand that the grapes should not be grown to optimize quantity, as with table grapes. « The trick: make them taste the grape juice samples », Evy said. And it works !

Being part of Nyepi

Nyepi, a beautiful and moving celebration which we will not forget any time soon. Also called “Hindu Day of Silence”, Nyepi is the Balinese New Year.

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Once a year, people have to chase the evil spirits away. And fortunately, we had the opportunity to be part of the celebrations. Huge statues were adorned with monstrous deities (ogoh-ogoh), one more decadent and terrifying than the other, paraded in the streets of Bali at night to the sound of traditional drums. This was followed by a long procession on the beach, where the ogoh-ogoh were decapitated and burned in huge bonfires.

Then came Nyepi. A recollection day where everyone was invited to stay at home. Quietly, in silence and in darkness ; for 24 hours from daybreak. The demons should not be tempted by the return of humans…

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As for us, we took the opportunity to take a break for one day, enjoying the ouside pool at Brown Feather Hotel.

Morning visit of the vineyards

The next day, a driver picked us up before sunrise. We went to visit one of Hatten’s vineyards. Bali was still asleep. It was dark night and the atmosphere slightly mystical. Not a soul in the streets, with the exception of a few tribes of macaques crabbers (6).

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The moment was surreal in comparison to the incessant traffic density that prevails here the other 364 days of the year.
It was 7am when we got there. The sun was just rising. Yet it was already 28 ° C and 100% humidity in the air! The vineyards were beautiful and so green. Here vines don’t lose their leaves… After harvest, a small green cut is done and the vines grow again immediately (7)! Enough to make your head spin.

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We ended the trip with a superb tour of the Bali Safari & Marine Park, it was time to make friends with an orangutan and to admire the spectacular “Bali Agung show”, a life-size show explaining the history of the island…breathtaking.

 

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

 

Thank you to Sababay Winery and Hatten Wines for their warm welcome, as well as Brown Feather Hotel and Plataran Ubud for the great accommodation that was offered to us. Thank you especially to Evy Gozali from Sababay Winery and to Maryse LaRocque from Hatten Wines, for their assistance in organizing our stay. Finally, thank you to Ibu Yoke for letting us visit the Bali Safari & Marine Park from the sidelines.
 

(1) James Kalleske, oenologist of Hatten Wines, is the nephew of our friend David Kalleske (domain Rockford Wines, Barossa). The world of wine is decidedly microscopic!
(2) Maryse LaRocque is also the secretary of the Asian Wine Producers Association ; association in partnership with Denis Gastin.
 (3) Muscat de Saint Vallier : interspecific crossing obtained by Seyve-Villard, between « 12 129 Seyve-Villard » and « panse précoce de Provence ».
(4) The solera is a wine aging system used in Spain.
(5) There would be 5% Muslims in Bali
(6) The macaque crabier is a catarhinien monkey native to Southeast Asia and very prevalent on the island of Bali…
(7) A lot of foliage is kept for better photosynthesis, resulting in more tannins and better concentration.

1st Wine Explorers’ world wine tasting…

“Exceptional guests for a unique journey around the world of wine“

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On June 16, seven professionals from the wine industry did us the honor of joining the WINE Explorers’ team, in order to share the discoveries of the first part of the trip, which began in January 2014. A unique tasting, where 12 countries were represented, as that we are very happy to share with you today!
A complicated choice because after a year and a half of peregrinations and 180,000 kilometers traveled, over 2,250 wines had been tasted and listed.
 Some wines were tasted conventionally while others were served blind, to give some surprises to a public of connoisseurs.
The idea was not to judge these wines, but to assess the potential of each of the selected wine regions and discuss the notion of terroir.

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They attended the tasting  : Patrick Schmitt MW, editor in chief of The Drinks Business (UK), Debra Meiburg MW, consultant (Hong Kong), Jean-Claude BerrouetSandrine Garbay, cellar master of Château d’Yquem, Thomas Duroux, CEO of Château Palmer, Stéphane Derenoncourt and Rachid Drissi, purchasing manager of the prestigious negotiant Duclot.

24 wines from 12 countries were tasted

DRY WHITE WINES
Kristall Kellerei, 2013, Rüppel’s Parrot Colombard, NAMIBIA
Aruga Branca Pipa, 2009, Katsunuma Jozo Winery, JAPAN
Virtude Chardonnay, 2013, Salton, BRAZIL
Skyline of Gobi Chardonnay Reserve, 2013, Tiansai Winery, CHINA
Tasya’s Chardonnay, 2011, Grace Vineyard, CHINA

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RED WINES
Pinto Bandeira Pinot Noir, 2014, Vinícola Aurora, BRAZIL
Nouveau, 2013, Château Mani, SOUTH KOREA
Cuvée prestige, 2014, Castel, ETHIOPIA
Grande Vindima Merlot, 2008, Lidio Carraro, BRAZIL
Don Manuel Petit Verdot, 2013, Tacama, PERU
RPF Tannat, 2011, Pisano, URUGUAY
Don Manuel Tannat, 2012, Tacama, PERU
Juan Cruz Tannat, 2012, Aranjuez, BOLIVIA
Cuvée Ameena Syrah, 2010, D’Orrance Wines, SOUTH AFRICA
Cuvée Violette, 2012, Le Vieux Pin, CANADA
Emma’s Reserve, 2012, Silver Heights, CHINA
Kerubiel, 2005, Adobe Guadalupe, MEXICO
5 Estrellas, 2009, Casa de Piedra, MEXICO
Le Grand Vin, 2012, Osoyoos Larose, CANADA
Ensemble Arenal, 2010, Casa de Piedra, MEXICO
Raizes Corte, 2010, Casa Valduga, BRAZIL

SWEET WHITE WINES
Vendange Tardive, 2012, Vignoble du Marathonien, CANADA
Vin de Glace, 2011, Vignoble de l’Orpailleur, CANADA
Tomi Noble d’Or, 1997, Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery, JAPAN

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TOP 3 OF THE JURY – WHITE

1Aruga Branca Pipa, 2009, Katsunuma Jozo Winery, JAPAN
(100% Koshu, 6 months in French oak, then 2 years in bottle)
” Bright wine, slightly gold. Nose of vanilla and acacia ; even more complex after opening, slightly smoky. Mouth with a round, smooth and fresh attack. Very delicate and subtle ”
Food & wine pairing : fish and beurre-blanc sauce

2Virtude Chardonnay, 2013, Salton, BRAZIL
(100% Chardonnay, 6 months in French and American barrels)
” Beautiful clarity, light yellow color. Fresh nose with some floral notes. On the palate a pleasant acidity and an interesting balance. The volume comes from the grape. A wine that displays some personality ”
Food & wine pairing : fresh tagliatelle with salmon

3Vendange Tardive, 2012, Vignoble du Marathonien, CANADA
(100% Vidal, noble rot, slow cold pressing)
” Intense gold color. Pretty nose, deep, notes of pineapple, apricot and mango. Smooth in mouth, with candied peach and apricot. Beautiful wine, dense, rich and sweet but still harmonious ”
Food & wine pairing : vanilla ice cream and hazelnut feuillantine

Two other wines also got the attention of our jury…
Rüppel’s Parrot Colombard, 2013, Kristall Kellerei, NAMIBIA
(95 % Colombard, 5% Sauvignon Blanc/Chenin)
A very aromatic wine, light and pleasant… that seduced by its “drinkability “.
Tomi Noble d’Or, 1997, Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery, JAPAN
(100% Riesling, noble rot)
Undoubtedly an unusual wine…

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TOP 5 OF THE JURY – RED

1Cuvée Violette, 2012, Le Vieux Pin, CANADA
(100% Syrah, 14 months in barrels with 19% new)
” Intense deep red color. Green pepper notes on the nose with herbs, olives and blackcurrant. Beautiful mouth, slightly herbaceous with a tapenade and red berries profile. Nice tannins, light oak and very good length. A wine full of elegance and finesse ”
Food & wine pairing : veal chop

25 Estrellas, 2009, Casa de Piedra, MEXICO
(Blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Cinsault, aged for 12 months in French and American barrels)
” Complex and earthy nose. Black olive, plum. Mouth well structured, balanced and harmonious. Good length with an aromatic finish. A wine with lot of finesse ”
Food & wine pairing : chili con carne

3Kerubiel, 2005, Adobe Guadalupe, MEXICO
(38% Syrah, 16% Cinsault, 16% Grenache, 6% Tempranillo, 3% Viognier)
” Garnet color, early evolution. Intense nose of jammy fruit (plum, strawberry, gooseberry). Very nice, evokes childhood. Mouth also on black and ripe fruit. Beautiful and dense structure in mouth. Seductive and very well made ”
Food & wine pairing : sautéed veal and wild rice

4Le Grand Vin, 2012, Osoyoos Larose, CANADA
(50% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 4% Malbec, 20 months in French oak barrels with 60% new and 40% of one wine)
” Nose of spices and wild herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme), combined with ripe black fruits. Round mouth, full, balanced. Elegant and harmonious tannins. Remarkable density and length ”
Food & wine pairing : lamb

5Pinto Bandeira, 2014, Vinícola Aurora, BRAZIL
(100% Pinot Noir, 6 months in French oak barrels)
” Light color, quite dense. Nose of modern Pinot noir, woody, ripe and fruity with notes of blackcurrant. Quite fine. Nice texture on the palate. Precise extraction, long length. Beautiful final ”
Food & wine pairing : white meat or marinated red tuna.

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A few words about the countries presented

ASIA

China : a giant which is just beginning
World’s 5th biggest producer and current largest consumer of red wines, China remains primarily a country of extreme conditions of production, with temperatures ranging up to +40°C in summer to -40°C in winter in many central regions, forcing the vines to be buried each winter. The vines are quickly damaged and it is impossible to keep old vines in many regions. Quite an important problem for the elaboration of super premium wines. However, the size of the country offers many different mosaics of climates and soils, allowing hope for a nice future for a production which is so recent. Some top winemakers, as Emma GAO in Ningxia, have already shown us that it is possible to make some very fine and elegant wines.

South Korea : too much moisture for Vitis vinifera
A unique Korean wine presented during the tasting has helped us to highlight the fact that in very wet cultivated areas (90 to 100 %) – as here in South Korea or in Taiwan, for example – wine production requires the planting of hybrids vines other than Vitis vinifera. This seems to suggest that quality wine production is compromised in regions relatively close to the equator, where the humidity is constant and the cycle of the vine is continuous.

Japan : great elegance in the land of the Rising Sun
Japan is a country with generally difficult weather conditions, with a wet climate. The meticulous care of the vine still allows them to produce some very nice wines, especially from the Koshu, Riesling or Pinot Noir grapes. The tasting has shown that Japan can produce very elegant and aromatic wines, both dry, like the delicious « Aruga Branca Koshu » from Katsunuma, or sweet like the cuvée « Tomi Noble d’Or » from Suntory, a surprising botrytis Riesling (moisture combined with an altitude of over 700 meters here becomes an asset).

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AFRICA

Special mention for South Africa
A terroir already well known by connoisseurs for decades now, this tasting was the confirmation that South Africa can produce magnificent and elegant wines, especially from the Syrah grape variety, as here in the Robertson region with the cuvée « Ameena Syrah » from Dorrance Wines which was unanimously appreciated.

Ethiopia : a country as beautiful and endearing as atypical and confusing
11 million bottles produced per year, including 1 million by the CASTEL winery. Real potential in this wine region located 100 kilometers South of Addis Ababa, the capital. You can find here beautiful poor soils perched at 2,000 meters above sea level, with cool nights that allow the grapes to gently reach nice maturity, especially for red wines. Rainfall, often low, but offset by drip and controlled irrigation (as in Chile or California), allows the plant to receive just enough water. The global impression of the wine tasted is positive, even if it is strongly marked by its aging in new oak barrels. We guess a real potential for this young wine country… to be remembered.

Namibia : a confidential production
This country has only four wineries, less than four hectares each! Located North of South Africa, viticulture remains anecdotal there.

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AMERICAS

Brazil : a real potential
The country opened its borders only 25 years ago and is just beginning to reveal its potential. The region of Serra Gaucha, situated around the 29° parallel South, is already promising, both for sparkling and still wines. A topography which reminds us of Tuscany, a rather temperate climate, plenty of sunshine, a moderate but good altitude (700 meters on average), combined with expertise thanks to the Italian immigration and strong technical investments, promise a bright future for the Brazilian wine industry.

Bolivia, a land full of promises
Wine production exclusively in altitude (1,600 to 2,800 m) is probably the main secret of Bolivia’s success with quality wine production; mainly for red wines. Because despite the semi-tropical location of the country around the 21° and 22° parallel South, the region of Tarija (the country’s main producing region), benefits from drier conditions at over 1,600 meters and has a remarkable terroir, mainly composed of well drained sandy loam soils and schist dating from the Jurassic period.
In many Bolivian wines we found freshness, elegance and some complexity, like during the tasting with the cuvée « Juan Cruz Tannat » from Bodega Arranjuez.

“Coup de Coeur” for Canada
The classification of this first WINE Explorers’ tasting is telling: the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, is full of treasures. Near the 49° parallel North, the climate is governed by a coastal mountain range that protects the region from cold and wet depressions swept by the Pacific Ocean, 400 km to the west. The result : a warm and dry climate with annual rainfall of 200 mm and an average temperature of 22°C during spring and summer time. The region produces fantastic red wines, fresh, with beautiful elegance and finesse. Another great discovery – at the other end of the country, some 4,400 km to the East : the sweet white wines of Quebec, from hybrid varieties such as Vidal or Seyval. A very small production offering very nice wines with concentrated aromas, thanks to a cool climate and grapes harvested (very) late by a few irreducible passionate winemakers.

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Mexico : the beautiful surprise
The region of Baja California, South of California, was one of the best surprises of the first WINE Explorers’ tasting. Located on the 31,5° parallel north, this semi-desert region lacks of water (less than 200 mm of rain per year in good years) and does not forgive any approximation. It results in solar wines, powerful and balanced, meticulously blended, combining up to six grape varieties in the same cuvée and show how important it is to consider Mexico as one of the next stars of tomorrow’s new-world red wines.  A nice recognition for a country that was, in 1554, the pioneer of the Americas in terms of viticulture…

Peru, a great terroir
The Ica Valley is the main region of production of the country. The climate is dry and hot. “A bit like Chile“, some said. And even if we are here on the 17° parallel South, this region is suitable for producing wines in exceptional conditions, ” thanks to the characteristics of its unique climate and its alluvial soils”, loved to emphasize great wine figures like Max Rives and Emile Peynaud. At the foothills of the Andes, red wines made from Petit Verdot and Tannat grapes can give very good results.

Uruguay, to follow very closely
Despite a fairly dense and rather concentrated annual rainfall, very conscientious wineries know how to produce very nice wines, especially red, with rather early varieties such as merlot, or other less early as tannat. It is the case of the Pisano winery for example, which benefits from clay and limestone soils with very high pH (7.5 to 8), giving mineral and complex wines. In the land of meat lovers (52 kg consumed per year per capita !), wine knows how to find its place with style.

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THE FINAL WORD

All regions of the world are not conducive to viticulture. Yet, many factors such as soils, altitude, climate, grape variety or climat can create special conditions for the production of very nice wines. A protective mountain barrier, a South-facing hillside… are sometimes the ingredients for an elegant and complex wine. However, what can make each of these wines some ‘great’ wines is above all the skill of the winemaker and his meticulous knowledge of its terroir.
Understanding a terroir is adapting its cultivating system, choosing the appropriate plant material, making the right choices in the vineyard and in the winery. Jean-Claude Berrouet reminded us during this first tasting of this wise definition of terroir, given by Olivier De Serres in the 17th century and which aptly illustrates this final word : ” Air, land and complant are the foundation of the vineyard“. Let us not forget that.

The conclusions of this first WINE Explorers’ tasting still remain relative because unfortunately we do not have the chance to visit all wineries of the countries we explored (it would take although 10 generations of explorers to try to visit them all!). And as we all have a different palate, it is possible that we sometimes lacked objectivity. That is why it was very important for us to be surrounded by leading experts in the world of wine, with various backgrounds and experiences, to balance the impressions that we had when tasting these wines the first time.

This experience remains primarily a humbling lesson and of open-mindedness, for wines sometimes “outside of the usual standards” but with an undeniable potential and personality. We will renew it with joy next year!

The world of wine is far from having revealed all its secrets…

WineExplorers’cheers,
Amandine Fabre & Jean-Baptiste Ancelot


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS :
We thank our partners to believe and follow this project : the VIDELOT Group, DB Schenker, Château Lafon Rochet, Château Calon Ségur, Château La Conseillante.
Thank you to Elisabeth Jaubert, Ariane Khaida and Jean Moueix for having made this tasting possible.
And thank you to all the people close to the project and who encourage us every day.

Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan – do they really make wine there?

About a year ago (late July 2013), Ludo and I were preparing the route for the WINE Explorers’ project. We were gently tearing our hair out trying to fit 92 countries into a 3-year schedule in which we couldn’t see the end. Imagine for a moment having to schedule your trips until June 2017… It felt weird!
I remember it like it was yesterday. Ludo asked me with astonishment: ” Is there is wine in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan? “. “Yes,” I replied hesitantly. According to the research done on these countries – on the Internet and in some old books – traces of  wine production there seemed to be present.

TEST
It only remained for us to go there and see for ourselves.
But first it was still necessary to locate these -stan(1) countries on a world map. Because these destinations don’t spring to mind as holiday destinations. (Wrongly! But let’s talk about this later).

Kyrgyzstan and the anti-alcohol policy of Gorbachev

Upon exiting the plane, we found ourselves in the countryside. The sunshine was dazzling, with a pastel blue sky. It was 41 ° C under a blazing sun.  We were surrounded by fields of freshly cut corn and the mountains with their tops still covered by snow, provided a beautiful backdrop.  One unique road – littered with carts full of fruit and vegetables, hawkers and traditional pottery –  connects the airport to Bishkek, the capital. This scenic beauty reminded me with nostalgia of the countryside of my childhood in Picardy, in northern France.

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We were seeking information. A former Minister of Agriculture agreed to meet us in one of the few wine bars of Almaty. The place was cold and deserted. The decor was virtually  non-existent. “This is normal, he explained, since the importation of wine is very new in the country and most Kyrgyz have neither the means nor the education to drink wine”. Wine was produced here in the twentieth century: 13 cooperatives produced mainly sweet wines and sweet effervescents (230,000 liters of bubbles per year anyway). “But everything was snatched in 1985, in the name of the anti-alcohol policy of Gorbachev’s government, with the aim to eradicate alcoholism in the USSR”. A turning point in the Kyrgyz wine industry…

The revival of Kyrgyz wine is not (yet) for tomorrow

There are a few factors which make investment in the wine industry in Kyrgyzstan unlikely.  First off wine consumption is close to zero,  secondly new vines need several years to produce fruit – it takes a long time before a return on investment can be seen – and lastly the unfortunate instability of the economic situation in Kyrgyzstan – in reference to the two recent revolutions of 2005 and 2010 – which might very well have a detrimental effect on investor confidence.  It seems that the actions of the former Soviet Union still casts a shadow on the wine industry in this country.

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Grain is now exclusively grown for the production of vodka and other brandy. Paradoxically, legislation on certain types of alcohol became very soft and it is not uncommon to find  “homemade” beverages such as bozo (a grain alcohol reaching 30 °C) or kymyz (fermented milk with neutral alcohol) in the mountains. How frustrating… We would have  liked to meet some Kyrgyz winemakers in order to understand their history and their wines. We just arrived 29 years too late…
So as a consolation prize – and on the road to Kazakhstan – we decided to visit the mountains of Karakol and the northern Issyk-Kul lake, traveling by minibus.  As well as a two-day trek in the wilderness. And to top it all, we slept at night in a yurt in the mountains, making friends with some livestock on horseback along the way. Change of scenery guaranteed!

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1500-hectares wineries in Kazakhstan… it’s possible

It was while looking at a map that I realized how big Kazakhstan is! 4,5 times bigger than France. Luckily for us, the vineyards lie in the south of the country, halfway between Almaty and the Kyrgyz border. We didn’t not have to go too far.
One feels immediately upon arriving in Almaty that the country is economically doing better than his Kyrgyz neighbour: the roads are (good), bars and trendy restaurants abound and it is not unusual to see 4×4 and other luxury cars in the city center. Oil helps, doesn’t it?

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From the vineyard side we can not say that Kazakhstan is doing well though. In 1991, Gorbachev, still with the same determination as in the rest of the Soviet Union to stop popular alcoholism, had most of the vineyards in the country removed. Today there are only three formal wineries: Bacchus, Issyk and Turguen. However, it is possible to find some small private estates, between 2 and 3 hectares in size, better maintained and belonging to wealthy Kazakhs who produce wine for their own consumption. Some of these micro private estates even have French consultants  managing their wine.

We were expected at Turguen Winery, a young estate rehabilitated in 2009 and where almost all of the 1,500 hectares of vines are not yet trellised, due to a lack of manpower. Here they produce 11 millions bottles per year with half the grapes coming from the vineyard. The other half is sold as table grapes to supermarkets in the country.

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Both Turguen wines will be bottled within a few weeks. So they are served to us in large carafes. Original! A very shy white aligoté, with hints of almond and quince, followed by a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Saperavi(2) with notes of blackcurrant and dirt, a little bit diluted. Both wines are sold €9 a bottle.

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We got a bit of a fright when we left the estate: the vineyard is located near a military zone where the daily shooting exercises are done with real bullets! But in order to leave the estate to continue our journey we had to go pass through a 2 km stretch of road right in the exercise area. A militant in position asked us to wait 20 minutes until the lunch break, at which time the exercises stop. We followed his advice to the letter, just to avoid a stray bullet …

Extreme temperatures for the vines

Fortunately Globalink(3), our main contact in Kazakhstan, kindly provided a chauffeured car for our travels in the vineyards of the region. Driving on country roads is not a luxury and can quickly become a national sport, as people drive fast and dangerously. As for finding the vineyards (which are not indicated, that would be too easy) it is a real full – scale hunting game – which reminded us of our beautiful troubles in Kenya!

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After a 2-hour drive – due to a stop every 2km to ask our way – we arrived at Issyk Winery, 40 km (only) from Almaty. The estate, which dates back to 1932, produces 700 tonnes/year with its 200 hectares of vineyard. The winery is old and the equipment, dating back to the interwar period, have not been changed, which adds  a certain charm to the place.

We visited the vineyard in 45 °C… It was stunning. Many grapes, still green, were already roasted by the sun.

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This year is particularly dry and drip irrigation is not enough. Therefore the vines are flooded every two weeks. It is extreme but necessary, we were told, otherwise there is a risk of loosing many vines. Despite this soils remain poor and dry and generate an incredible dust in the air. Low temperatures during the winter, it can get to as low as -35 °C in this part of the world, necessitates burrowing  the vines for several months, as in China.

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This gives fresh, rustic, light and very refreshing wines; which are well suited to this type of climate. As their “Riesling Dry 2009“ (about €3.50), the highly aromatic “Muscat Dry 2009“  (about €3.10), the “Sweet White 2011“  (a blend of Chardonnay and Muscat sold at €3.10) or the “Gold of Issyk 2010“, the iconic estate wine (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged two years in old oak barrels and sold €6.20).

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It is true that communism  hit Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan hard and we can still find well palpable traces of it. The vine has suffered greatly – where it has managed to survive.

And although these two countries will not be the great wine countries of tomorrow, it is with great pleasure and desire that we invite you to get there, for a week (or a month for the more adventurous explorers) : the hiking trails are breathtaking and numerous. The people are friendly, the food is delicious… and the ticket is not expensive at all! For the fans.

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

 

(1) The suffix -stan means a place or a people in Persian. Kazakhstan thus means the “land of the Kazakhs”, like Kyrgyzstan means the “land of the Kyrgyz”.
(2) The Saperavi is a Georgian grape variety native from the Alazani valley in the mountains of the Greater Caucasus.
(3) Globalink is DB Schenker’s transportation and logistics partner in Central Asia.

China, wine super power and new Eldorado – Part 2

Part 2/2 : Tianjin, Hebei, Beijing & Shandong

We mentioned in our previous article that China became the biggest consumer of red wine in the world in January.
Why such enthusiasm for wine? Mainly due to the opening of China to the world. And while during these last few years there has been a decline in the consumption of spirits such as baijiu, wine, however, is booming.

Château Junding (Shandong)

Château Junding (Shandong)


Drinking red wine is considered to be good for one’s health, but that is not the only reason for the increase in consumption! New generations travel and study abroad and westernize their consumption. They see wine as a fashionable product, generating social ties. And Chinese investors understood this very well: new vineyards born and grow super fast.
We have focussed on four major  recognized Chinese wine regions, all concentrated around Beijing: Tianjin, Hebei, Beijing (itself) & Shandong.

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Tianjin, pioneer region in Sino-foreign joint ventures

We were heading southeast from Beijing to visit Dynasty, a Sino-French joint venture between Tianjin City Grape Garden and Remy Martin, established in 1980.

We went there by train, departing from the Beijing Railway Station about to experience the joys of Chinese public transport. Whatever…
We spent hours waiting in the heat and the noise to get our tickets at a counter crowded with people. Around us people were sleeping on the floor, their bundles under their heads for pillows; others played cards barefoot, probably waiting for a late train. This became a real obstacle course which ended with us traveling with our 70kg-bags between our legs. We laughed out loud in the face of such anarchy.

Dynasty

Dynasty


Upon arriving at Dynasty, a big surprise awaited us.  We found ourselves face to face with a real castle. There was even a miniature replica of the Louvre Pyramid (the Pyramid designed in 1983 by the Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei…rather fun) built in front of it.  The interior decorations and ceiling heights were overwelming too.

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The 77-acres vineyard of Italian Riesling and Hamburg Muscat are surrounded by industrial buildings. The city literally circles the property. So I wondered where the grapes for the 40 million bottles produced annually by Dynasty comes from? The answer is simple (and common to many major wineries in the world), the rest of the vineyards – 3,700 acres of vines – is about 750 miles away, in the Ningxia region! Difficult to approach the notion of terroir in such conditions.

Hebei, the booming coastal region

First observation on arrival: hoists have invaded the landscape. The ambitions of the region are clearly displayed.
Illustrated by Bodegas Langues, a vineyard designed by the Austrian billionaire Gernot Langes-Swarovski (grand son of jewelry designer Daniel Swarovski) and which is nothing but a nice gift from the owner to himself.

Bodegas Langues

Bodegas Langues


Imagine: an investment of $300 million for 500 acres of vines planted on the mountainside (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc); a fully automated gravity cellar with a capacity of 1,600 tons; two elevators designed especially to move the 600 HL stainless steel tanks, and best of all… a Chinese cooperage producing its own oak barrels, 100% “Made in China”! The wines are sold for €150 on average and can reach a couple thousand euros for a double magnum of the top cuvée, set with gemstones.

A neighbour, Château Huaxia Greatwall, which marked the beginning of the Greatwall in China (COFCO), owns 3,200 acres of vines – planted in the Province along the Yanschan mountain, on rich sandy-loam soils – for a production of 46,000 tonnes and a cellar with 23,000 barrels! Enough to make your head spin.

Château Huaxia Greatwall

Château Huaxia Greatwall


Beijing, or when the vines caught up with urbanism

After an one hour ride on the Beijing underground, we arrived in the Fangshan district. Far from the big productions of the country, the new region only represents twenty wineries for now, between 25 to 100 acres in size. To stand out from other regions, the local government has implemented a strict policy for winemaking: an interdiction to buy grapes from elswhere (everything has to come from the estate). An organic certification for viticulture and winemaking is also under consideration.
The Fangshan region first prospered through its production of marble. But the marble has been depleted and now they must find new ways to keep the 260,000 jobs at stake. The development of the wine industry is the new workhorse of Fangshan.

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We visited Château Bolongbao, an experimental winery of 100 acres planted with Roussanne, Viognier and Petit Manseng, alongside with more traditional varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The challenges in the vineyard are massive: high humidity, summer rains and winter frosts which neccesitates protection of the vines during this four month period.  But this does not prevent the production of quality wine throughout – souple, easy to drink and fruit driven.

At Château Lion, an hour’s drive away, they also had to adapt to additional and unexpected constraints. 4 years ago the château has been “cut in half” by an aerial railway linking Beijing’s suburbs to the center.

Château Lion

Château Lion


A blow that did not diminish the overwhelming optimism of its owner, who is very proud of his vineyard trellised in double Guyot. He even played with blind-tasting by letting us taste a delicious white wine out of the tank, with aromas of mint, peach and citrus which turned out to be a 100% Vidal, a white grape that is normally found in Canada for the production of ice wine. Hats off.

Shandong, a region with significant potential

Here is an interesting region from a climatic point of view.
There is no need to bury the vines for protection during winter (unlike all the other wine regions we passed by in China), since the climate is warmer. The Shandong vineyards are on the same latitude as Greece or Turkey.

Future Lafite Estate (Shandong)

Future Lafite Estate (Shandong)


We had a few meetings in the Penglai distrcit, where 2/3 of Shandong’ grapes are produced. And if today Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) is having a foothold in the region*, there is a reason for that. The potential is there: beautiful sunny summers, moderate rainfall, poor soil compounds – for the most beautiful vineyards – with granite, limestone and minerals; a sea breeze drying the vines in summer thereby protecting it from many diseases; the possibility of planting a wide variety of vitis vinifera grapes and the ability of having older grapevines than elsewhere in China.

Here the properties compete in originality, like the Treaty Port Vineyards castle, Scottish-inspired, which sits just across the future Lafite estate. It even produces a whiskey with imported Scottish malt.

Treaty Port Vineyards (Shandong)

Treaty Port Vineyards (Shandong)


Another nice local (French) success is the Château Reifeng-Auzias, born in 2003 as a joint venture between Dominique Auzias (Château Auzias), Michel Behar (financial), and Wu Feng and Mei Ling (a couple in the Chinese oil business). The château would even be “one of the best planted vineyards in China and even elsewhere in the world“, according to Bernard Burtschy.

And what do the wines taste like?

The Hebei Province particularly impressed us for the quality of its wines.

15-Tasting session 3
-“Grand Reserve 2009“, from Bodegas Langues (Changli district): a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Complex nose of red fruit, leather and violets. Mouth with soft black fruit (blackcurrant dominant) and cocoa. Cellar price: €220.
-“Cabernet Sauvignon Spécial Reserve 2005“, from Château Huxia Greatwall (Changli district): a nose of ripe black fruit (black cherry and plum) and liquorice. A beautiful mouth, fresh, with pleasant, supple and elegant tannins. Cellar price: €78.
-“Reserve 2009“, from Château Nubes (Huailai district): a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of jammy black fruit, leather and spices. Cooked fruit in mouth with fine and silky tannins. Nice length. Cellar price: €130.
-“Danbian Marselan 2011“, from Domaine Amethys Manor, (Huailai district): a red wine 100% Marselan matured half in American and half in Hungarian oak barrels. Very spicy nose (black pepper, clove), with black fruit and a slightly herbaceous finish. Fresh mouth with a crunchy finish. Delicious.
-“Petit Manseng Late Harvest 2010“, from Domaine Franco-Chinois (Huailai district): a wine we open for our anniversary of the Great Wall of China. Candied nose, with complex and lovely dry fruits. Lively palate with a good acidity and a final on dried apricot. Superb.

3 other interesting red wines tasted in the other wine regions.
15-Tasting session 4
-“Bolongbao Red 2010“, from Château Bolongbao (BEIJING, Fangshan District): blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. After one year in French barriques, develops notes of blackberry, cocoa and leather. Fresh, supple and well structured. Cellar price: €60.
-“Private Reserve 2005“, from Château Gooding (SHANDONG): the iconic wine of the estate, a Cabernet Sauvignon produced exclusively in magnum. Nose of black fruit, spices and undergrowth. Fine tannins. Powerful on the palate, with notes of  liquorice and cassis.
-“The Commissioner 2009“, from Treaty Port Vineyards (SHANDONG): blend of Marselan and Merlot. Delicate nose of blackberry, blueberry and red cherry. Soft palate with balanced fruit and crispiness ; touch of black pepper on the finish. Short but fresh mouth. Cellar price: €40.
– and a nice curiosity : a 15 years old XO from Dynasty (TIANJIN), that can compete without blushing with some French Cognacs. Cellar price: €78.

Conclusion: when it comes to premium wines (above €50), the quality is often there.

The Chinese wine barrel exists!

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In the mountains of north eastern China, at the foot of Mongolia, is an oak forest of only a few hectares. Just enough trees for the two happy Chinese coopers based east of Beijing. So the oak barrel “Made ​​in China” does exist. And after tasting, it seems that the tannins and aromas of these wines are ​​thinner and more discreet compared to Hungarian or French oak.
However the Chinese oak barrel is just a sweet and ephemeral dream. It takes between 70-80 years for an oak tree to reach its mature height and it is impossible to replant trees in the mountains, it would be too expensive. “Therefore within 3-4 years the Chinese will be obliged to import oak from abroad if they wish to continue producing barrels“, the director of a cooperage explained to us.

Nowadays China is a major player in the wine world, both from a production (5th largest producer), as well as from a consumption (world n°1 for red wine) point of view. It must therefore be taken very seriously.
However, as Chinese wine exports does not exceed 2% of total production, and regarding the fact that the number of potential consumers in the country is growing every day, this trend is not about to reverse. Therefore Chinese wine will not be (not yet anyway) on all our tables tomorrow.

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Let’s close this article with a magical moment experienced on July 16, the birthday of both explorers Ludo & JB: a walk on a neglected part of the Great Wall of China. A moment of absolute stillness and where the vastness of the world reminded us politely that we are only small drops of water in the ocean. 

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA
 

*Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) have joined the Chinese group CITIC in 2012 to build a winery in the wine region of Penglai. The vineyard is already fully planted ; the facilities are still in construction.

Thank you to Nancy Pan and Brian Yao for their kind assistance and the numerous translations from Chinese to English.
For any other information related to the Chinese market : 
http://www.wines-info.com

 

Emma GAO, the great lady of Silver Heights

Focus on Silver Heights winery, a Chinese micro vineyard, far away from the established standards, producing only 40,000 bottles per year, and where we had the chance to taste the best red wine of our Chinese trip. A little jewel…
To follow is a summary of our meeting with Emma Gao, the winemaker of the family estate, a delightful young woman close to the hearth.

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WINE EXPLORERS : How did you become involved with wine ?

Emma GAO : It was my father who had the idea for me to learn winemaking in France for a better future career. I went to Orange and later to Bordeaux, and spent a total of 4 years in France. The French lifestyle and rich culture impressed me. I loved studying at the Bordeaux Oenology University with internships in some wineries. As you know this school is serious with the best professors who influenced me a lot with their professionalism.
I returned to China in 2004 to work in Xinjiang winery as winemaker, and then I went to Shanghai for wine sales-training, in order to have a global approach to the wine business.

WE : How was the Silver Heights winery born ?

EG : While I working my third vintage in an industrial winery in China, I realized how hard it was to produce quality wine. I got really upset that time and talked to my father about it. He told me over the telephone to come back to Ningxia, and that we will buy tanks and dig a small cellar for me to make the wine that I wish to make. My parents has a yard where they live, of less than 1 hectare planted with vines, fruit trees and vegetables. So I was so happy to start our own wine here! In 2007, our wine was recognized both by Wine Amateur in China and by overseas professionals. In 2009, Torres China, our distributor, helped us to come up with the name Silver Heights and to market the wine by promoting it in great hotels and restaurants in China.

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WE : Why Silver Heights almost disappeared recently ?

EG : A few years ago it was still the country side here. Now we are surrounded by buildings. And unfortunately our little farm was considered to be taken by a Real Estate Developer, in order to built a residence with a park. Because in China all land is the property of the Government(1).
The French Ambassador, who visited us once when he came to Ningxia, found that we had a little piece of paradise in the middle of the city and recognized that Silver Heights is a cooperation model in wine between France and China. So they wanted to support us and wrote a letter to the Mayor of Yinchuan to convince him to keep one corner of the park for us and to build a wine museum to welcome visitors.
With this very kind letter from the French Ambassador, we were allowed to keep a part of our farm, where our history and first vintage started and with which we have strong emotional ties. Thus, a happy ending! The 2012 & 2013 Silver Heights vintages will be aged here.

WE : What is your project of the wine cellar in the mountains ?

EG : In the very beginning we started with a total production of only 10 barrels, mainly for friends and family. Then little by little, this production increased every year, because the wine gained a good reputation, which was unexpected!  Then, my father and I decided to invest in a stable development, so we found some land in the mountain and planted new vines, in total 40 hectares. We planned to built a bigger facility in this beautiful vineyard touching the mountain.  We have the help of French architect Philippe Mazier who also had  many good ideas for designing the Silver Heights winery. The same architect will transform our ancient farm into a culture museum.

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WE : What makes Silver Heights one of the most recognized Chinese wineries today ?

EG : Our 16 year old vines have always been carefully maintained by my father. The altitude of 1200m, the sunshine, the dry wind and the Helan mountains that protect the vineyard, provide a very healthy environment to produce quality grapes and to make good wine. In addition,the temperature difference between day and night here is greater than 20 degrees, which is a plus for the maturation of phenolic compounds.
And above, all the wine that we produce here truly reflects the terroir of Ningxia, disease-free and very pure. We have recently planted new French rootstocks with which we hope to improve the quality even more.

WE : However, Ningxia is facing extreme viticulture, why ?

EG : While we are on the same latitude as Bordeaux, the climate here is continental. We are situated in a very dry region with an annual rainfall of only 200 mm, compared to an evaporation rate of 1600 mm! This presents a  real challenge and necessitates the use of drip-irrigation. On the other hand, this climate does offer the advantage of a disease-free environment which allows us to practise viticulture without the use of pesticides.
The huge temperature difference between summer and winter: 37°C to -25°C obliges us to bury the vines during the winter to protect them.  This sadly has the effect of reducing the vegetative growing cycle.

WE : Can you introduce your different wines to us ?

EG : We select only the best grapes for making the Silver Heights range, which we age in oak barrels for between 12 and 16 months, in accordance with traditional methods and without filtration.
Three main wines are produced : “The Summit“, a wine made ​​for ageing   a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Gernischt(2).

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And the “Family Reserve“, a friendly wine for everyday consumption. Finally we have a last label, “Emma’s reserve” our iconic wine, only produced in great vintages.
Our second brand Vallée Enchantée is made with the rest of the grapes once sorted. This is a wine for everyday consumption and is sold regionally.

– – – – – –

As we mentioned in the introduction, it is at Silver Heights where we felt most emotional about a Chinese red wine: “Emma’s 2011 Reserve“, a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Gernischt. A nose of black fruit (blackberry, blueberry and blackcurrant) with notes of violet, spices and roasted coffee. An elegant and fresh palate with velvety tannins and a good length. To be enjoyed exclusively in a magnum size bottle.

– – – – – –

WE : Where are your wines sold ?

EG : Torres China is exclusively distributing our wines. With Torres, we are presented in the most prestigious restaurants and five star hotels in China: in Shanghai, Beijing and even Guangzhou.

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WE : Where does this very special connection between Silver Heights and Torres came from ?

EG : I’m very lucky to have worked with Torres China in 2008-2009 as a training manager. The GM, Alberto Fernandez, discovered our first wine, still in barrel at the time. He liked it and because of the passion he had for it, he decided to take over the packaging, marketing and media relations. And Damien Shee, GM for Torres Beijing also invested a lot of passion by promoting Silver Heights to the premium restaurants, always organising events to promote the brand.
At Torres, they said they are « emotional investors ». They just wanted to help us as a boutique winery to make the dream that my father and I share come true. You know, Torres China represents only family wineries from over the world. And they believe that only family wineries can make good wine continuously. Torres is contributing in many countries like Chile, China, Russia…for environmental protection, charity and local cooperation.

WE : How do you see the wine evolution in China in the coming years ?

EG : If you look at the evolution of the economic growth in China over the past decade from a global point of view, it is clear that the demand is still very luxury and premium wines oriented. New world wines are well represented on the market. Wine also reflects a very good image of health so people like to offer it as a gift – especially red wine, it’s very respectful. However that doesn’t even represent 1% of the population.
Wine is associated far more with Western culture than with Chinese culture. In the future we will need the influence of sommeliers and wine critics to educate the Chinese consumers, and hopefully at the same time go for a more qualitative and affordable Chinese wine production. So hopefully one day wine will be chosen instead of Baijiu and Huangjiu – our traditional spirits – in the glass of 1 billion Chinese consumers.
Let’s wait another 20 years and we’ll talk again…

 WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

 

For more information: www.silverheights.com.cn

(1) [Refers to the state land expropriation if the public interest so requires, in accordance with procedures prescribed by law and authority farmers collectively owned land into state-owned land, and shall be given the rural collective economic organization of landless peasants and landless reasonable compensation and proper placement of legal acts.]
(2) Cabernet Gernischt, grown in the country for at least a century, seems to be a very close cousin of Cabernet Franc, according to ressente studies.

China, wine super power and new Eldorado – Part 1

Part 1/2 : Xinjiang, Ningxia & Shanxi

Today – more than ever – the wine world has its eyes fixed on China. Why might you ask?
If you recall, in January 2014, the following news caused a stir in all the newspapers: China became the biggest consumer of red wine in the world (1.865 billion bottles consumed in 2013), dethroning France at the same time(1)!
So as passionate explorers we looked forward to go there to get an overall picture of the situation. We spent 30 days in the country, visited 32 wineries in seven different regions and tasted more than 230 wines. Here follows the story of our one-month trip in China.

Château Changyu Baron Balboa Kinjiung (Xinjiang)

Château Changyu Baron Balboa Kinjiung (Xinjiang)


Development ambitions are clearly shown

Until the 1980s – ie yesterday in perspective to the history of humanity – China was primarily focused on the production of table grapes in the Muslim regions of the west. And although the history of viticulture in the country seems to date back to 7000 years BC,  modern Chinese viticulture is less than 35 years old.
Imagine… Within just three decades, China became the 5th largest producer of wine (in 2012), with a production of nearly 15 million hectoliters(2) ! And the country doesn’t want to stop here; far from it. China aims to become number one in the world within the next five years(3). At present there are seven major production areas in the provinces of Xinjiang in the west, Ningxia and Shanxi in the center, Tianjin, Hebei, Beijing and Shandong in the east.

WINE Explorers' trip in China - July 2014

WINE Explorers’ trip in China – July 2014


Xinjiang, between extreme viticulture and colossal investments

We began our exploration in the Xinjiang province in north-west China. First observation: the desert is king (only 70mm of rainfall per year!). The mountains, omnipresent, jealously guard their snowcapped well; one of the main sources of irrigation for vineyards together with the lakes of the region. The outside temperature is about 35 degrees in the shade – usual for July. Consequently,the harvest is early, at the end of August.
So many vineyards on the horizon… The hectares grow here at the speed of flowers in spring, and the landscapes offered to the eye of the traveler, are of rare beauty.

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At the center of the province, near the city of Urumqi, viticulture has been driven by the Japanese in 1985, with a real boom late 90’s. Here the army is responsible for managing the 10,000 hectares planted. And wineries compete with gigantism: a cellar capacity of 40,000 tonnes for Tatary Winery, two presses with a capacity of 50 tons/hour each for Sandyland Estate and a production of 6 million bottles per year for Citic Guoan Wine (who even exports a little bit of wine to Parisian Chinese restaurants).

Sandyland Estate

Sandyland Estate


A little further north, near Korla, the young sub-region named Gobi, created in 1998 with the domain Les Champs d’Or, already has ​​6,000 hectares. A good start.
There, Tian Sai Vineyard, with its 140 hectares planted in 2010, is going to be a reference: the wines are very promising. There are international varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Chardonnay, and two Chinese varieties: Bei hong (red) and Bei mei (rosé); Bei meaning “Beijing,” the city from which these two hybrids originate.  Investments there are impressive: four helicopters have just been purchased and are waiting patiently to transport VIP guests from Korla airport to the guest rooms of the property.
Another incredible Estate is the newly built Château Changyu Baron Balboa Kinjiung which with its huge turrets are reminiscent of a jewel of the Médocaine architecture. The wines are not ready yet. They will open to the public very soon.

Tian Sai Vineyard

Tian Sai Vineyard


We told you about the extreme viticulture in summer… that’s not the only challenge! This is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to this winter temperatures  can drop to between -20 and -25 °C; forcing the estates to bury each vine at the end of the fall, to avoid the risk of seeing the vines fade away during the winter. A mammoth task.
Another issue is labour. As paradoxical as it may seem, there is a critical shortage of workers in this part of China. Even though the Chinese Government is investing heavily to attract new workers, they are not (yet) falling  at the door. So consequently, the mechanisation of  vineyards is very developed in Xinjiang.

Ningxia, the wine tourism booming region

from left to right : JB, Mr Cao Kailong, Ludo & Professor De Mei LI in Yinchuan (Ningxia)

from left to right : JB, Mr Cao Kailong, Ludo & Professor De Mei LI in Yinchuan (Ningxia)


Those who have heard of Chinese wine have heard about the Ningxia province, the area which has received the most media attention, and is to date the only recognized official Chinese wine region. Some signs are unmistakable: the Ningxia has its own regulatory wine organism (the only one in the country), an international experimental growing zone was put in place (where the OIV, or Denis Dubourdieu, has a vineyard plot) and Vinitech China was moved to Yinchuan, the capital of the province.
Here we are on the same latitude as Bordeaux. But contrary to what one might (wrongly) think, the climate is very different because it is continental, with low rainfall (200 mm/year) and the region is facing strong temperature differences between summer and winter, forcing wineries to cover the vines during the winter. Fortunately, the protection of the Helan mountains, the high altitude vineyards (1200 m), the 73 lakes and the Yellow River offer very favourable conditions for growing grapes.

Futur vineyards, Ningxia

Futur vineyards, Ningxia


The desire for growth in Ningxia is strong, according to Mr Cao Kailong (Director of the Bureau of Grape and Floriculture Development of Ningxia): “many serious entrepreneurs invest in wine here and in the near future we wish to double the planted vine area of Ningxia, reaching 66,000 hectares”. And investments by the local government for the development of wine tourism are considerable: 50 billion RMB (equivalent to € 6 billion) was invested in the construction of roads and for the delivery of water and electricity.
And the region has excellent estates producing top quality wines, such as Silver Heights (probably making the best Chinese red wine), Helan Qingxue, LeirenshouHelan Mountain or Château Septembre.

Château Septembre, a family story

Château Septembre, a family story


Shanxi, between gigantism and modernism

We left the Ningxia province for the Shanxi province –  an 1:30 hour flight to the east. While in the car on our way to the airport a message to our attention was broadcasted on the local radio station: “We hope you enjoyed your stay here and we wish the WINE Explorers a good trip in China.” Nice and friendly attention.
Shanxi is a beautiful province, covered by green mountains. It is also (and unfortunately) the most polluted region in China. Vineyards, preserved by altitude, are grown between 700 and 1200 m. There are absolutely delicious wine to be found. After 4 hours of driving, following the winding road carved into the rocks, we finally arrived at our first winery visit, Château Rongzi. And what a surprise!

Château Rongzi

Château Rongzi


It’s not a castle that stands in front of us, but a whole village – under construction – which literally sits on top of the mountain. Impressive… The 400 hectares of vines, planted in 2007, currently produces 400 tons of juice for wines of great quality, especially the reds. Admittedly, they are taking advice for winemaking  from Jean-Claude Berrouet; which hoisted the Estate to the top.

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Another nugget from Shanxi is Grace Vineyard, with 200 hectares of vines planted in 1998, and whose owner, Judy Leissner, is one of the leading figures of wine in Asia(4)“The sun, the high altitude, the very poor soils and the 500-600 mm of rainfall during the year provide ideal conditions for growing grapes”, we were told. The Chardonnay from this domain is remarkable.

Tasting: China has made ​​considerable progress

Admittedly, China has impressed us: many wineries have succeeded in producing good quality wines. The downside, however, is important: drinking (good) wine in China will damage your wallet: at least 25 to 30 € per bottle. It is also common to see wines sold for over € 100 – especially through VIP membership and directly from the property. This is a very popular practice for wealthy Chinese customers. (Also to be noted, the majority of the Chinese production, sold in supermarkets for around €5, is not shown during tastings and I am conjuring up a terrible image.

Cabernet Sauvignon is king in China, and many other international varieties are also popular (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc). However Cabernet Gernischt(5), the most grown Chinese red grape – whose origins are European – has particularly impressed us. Traditionally blended, we had the chance to taste it on its own in stainless steel tank at Helan Mountain: a herbaceous nose, very spicy (pepper, violet, clove) with black fruit; some nice tannins on the palate, crisp and fresh.

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Five red wines which we particularly rated in the three regions for their elegance, structure and finesse of the tannins:
-“Skyline of Gobi Cabernet Sauvignon 2012“, from Tian Sai Vineyard (XIANJIANG)
-“Jiabeilan Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011“, from Helan QingXue (NINGXIA)
-“Oak Reserve Wine 2011“, from Leirenshou (NINGXIA), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with nice red fruit and a silky texture
-“Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve 2010“, from Helan Mountain (NINGXIA) : a dense and deep structure with superb tannins
-“Rongzi Cofee Label 2013“, from Château Rongzi (SHANXI), an elegant Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

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As well as two white wines and a traditional method:
-“Chardonnay Special Reserve 2011“, from Helan Mountain (NINGXIA), probably the best Chinese Chardonnay: creamy, fresh, complex and delicate
-“Méthode Traditionnelle Brut Rosé NV“, from Chandon (NINGXIA), the only serious traditional method sparkling in China, blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
-“Tasya’s Reserve Chardonnay 2011“, from Grace Vineyard (SHANXI), a lively Chardonnay, nice tension, with great freshness.

Ganbei, the art of downing drinks

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To conclude this first part on China we would like to share a Chinese tradition with you – it is friendly, traditional and millennium – but so painful for these Western stomachs of ours: the Ganbei, which is translated here by “bottoms up”…
This is a crucial element of business in China, you will not escape hearing your hosts yelling “Ganbei!” all the time during a business lunch. The matter is serious: the protocol is strict and refusing to drink is forbidden for the risk of upsetting your host.
On the first night we arrived in China we had our first traditional dinner according to these rules, drizzled with baijiu, the traditional Chinese rice alcohol. A bottle of MOUTAI, one of the most prestigious Chinese baijiu, arrived at the table, but it was still 65% alcohol! Despite our throats burning, sweating and the alcoholic element… we tried to look good. Invitations to toast went in all directions at breakneck speed. We ended the evening in a sacred state. This is something that one has to experience at least once in one’s life to understand the phenomenon. But be prepared…

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA 

 

(1) according to Vinexpo
(2)Source OIV 2013 A figure to be qualified, however, since Debra Meiburg MW told us    recently and rightly so “it is hard to get statistics because China imports a lot of bulk wine, which is then mixed with local production ”
 (3) source : Le Figaro
(4)Judy Leissner was awarded “Wine Personality of the year“ in 2012 by The Drinks Business.
(5) Cabernet Gernischt, grown in the country for at least a century, seems to be a very close cousin of Cabernet Franc, according to recent studies.

Thank you to Nancy Pan and Brian Yao for their kind assistance and the numerous translations from Chinese to English.
For any other information related to the Chinese market : http://www.wines-info.com

South Korea, a country of winegrowers…and surprises

A few days before going to South Korea, we launched a bottle into the sea on our Facebook page : we still did not have any contacts in this country…
One thing was certain, there is wine production in South Korea. Not to worry, then, the world of wine is (very) small and friends are always there to help and to share their network.

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Mission n°1 : making appointments with winegrowers

We just landed in Seoul. Now we simply needed to wait patiently. We took this opportunity to visit the capital. Some neighbourhoods only, because the city is immense. With 25 million people, Seoul is the third most populated metropolis in the world after Tokyo and Mexico City.
The architecture is sometimes very surprising, as for example at the corner of a shopping street in Myeong-Dong’s neighborhood, where a big surprise awaited us. Placed in the middle of a square, surrounded by buildings, one more modern than the other – in an ever changing town planning – the Cathedral of Myeong-Dong majestically throned.

Corée du Sud, vin coréen, Séoul, Junete, DuraeAn, Château Mani, Grand Coteau, Ah-Reum Kim, campbell early, muscat bailey A, Myeong-Dong, gubong, cheongsoo, Kim Giduk, Chungcheongbuk-do, macération carbonique, Jean-Baptiste Ancelot, Ludovic Pollet, Wine, Wine Explorers, Exploration, Asia
What wonder to come face to face with this beautiful cathedral, built between 1892 and 1898, a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church’s presence in South Korea – where in Seoul, there are over 1.2 million Christians.
But let’s get back to our vineyards. Because by now we had the contact details of four Korean wineries ! However… there was a slight “technical problem” which we had to overcome : none of these contacts spoke any English. Oops… By chance – and especially with the help of a school friend – we were in contact with Ah-Reum Kim, a journalist for the WINE REVIEW, a Korean magazine dedicated to food and wine. A few phone calls later our appointments were made. Thank you Ah-Reum !

Body language and winery visits

Rental car in hand, let’s go to the countryside, 300 km South of Seoul, to visit DuraeAn winery.

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Nearing the vineyard it seemed that the GPS was also a bit lost. We asked for directions by showing the address written in Korean on a piece of paper. A man took his car and beckoned us to follow him. He lead us to the domain. Once on site a real challenge awaited us : presenting ourselves, being understood, gathering information… and doing all this without speaking the language and only communicating with signs ! In the end we understood that DuraeAn winery produces mainly grape spirits, thanks to a double distillation alembic. Mr. Kwon, the owner of the winery, tried to explain to us with gestures that his wine is not sold and that he produces very little. We concluded that it must be made as a hobby and that the production is shared with his friends. He was very proud to show us around the cellar which housed a hundred barrels from France and Portugal. And the icing on the cake, he wanted us to autograph one of his barrels. Mandatory photo session.

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Junete and Grand Coteau, two very nice wine estates

Mission completed. We left the day after for Junete, the second winery of our trip.
Ms. Ha, the owner, was all smiles. She was waiting for us. And luckily she had wifi. Why was that important you might wonder ? Because we could communicate with her via Google Translate. And it worked pretty well ! The wine estate is very small : two hectares planted exclusively with campbell early*, a red hybrid grape variety – a cross between belvidere and Muscat of Hamburg. It gives a light wine with aromas of black fruit (see tasting notes below).
We ended our tour with a delicious outdoor lunch with Ms. Ha and her husband. On the menu was : dried fish, fermented cabbage, white rice and a cold soup made with blackberries and white radish.

Corée du Sud, vin coréen, Séoul, Junete, DuraeAn, Château Mani, Grand Coteau, Ah-Reum Kim, campbell early, muscat bailey A, Myeong-Dong, gubong, cheongsoo, Kim Giduk, Chungcheongbuk-do, macération carbonique, Jean-Baptiste Ancelot, Ludovic Pollet, Wine, Wine Explorers, Exploration, Asia
Heading back northwest, close to the sea, we arrived at Grand Coteau. A vineyard of 2.5 hectares which produces rather atypical wines, like a red sparkling, an ice wine made from campbell early or a white wine 100% cheongsoo (a very aromatic local hybrid grape that tends towards notes of white fruit and citrus). Here – as in most of the vineyards we encountered during our Korean trip – the vines are covered with huge gutter-shaped plastic nets. This is because the climatic conditions in South Korea are not very favourable for viticulture due to summer rain, high humidity and poor soils, bearing some similarity to the Taiwanese climate.

Grand Coteau

Grand Coteau


Tasting of some Korean wines

Result, Korean white wines are generally very light and the red wines are starved of tannins. Some examples of wines that we tasted.
– “M5610 Elevation 2010“ from Grand Coteau
A 100% campbell early sparkling rosé wine. Nose and mouth of wild strawberry. A fresh and pretty sweet wine rather balanced but short finish. (10% alcohol). Cellar price : 39 000 KRW (about 28€).
-“Gubong Red Wine“ from DuraeAn
A red wine made from gubong (a local grape variety), non vintage, with a very light pink-orange color. A nose of red fruit and a sweet mouth. Slightly bitter finish. (12% alcohol).

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-“Grape Wine Dry 2010“ from Junete
A purple-red wine 100% campbell early. Nose of Port wine with black fruit (blackberry) and strawberry finish. Very discreet mouth, a little hot. (12% alcohol). Cellar price : 15 000 KRW (about 11€).
– “Icewine 2010“ from Grand Coteau
A very surprising ice wine made from campbell early. This is possible since the temperature in some mountainous regions of South Korea can drop to -15°C in winter. Orange brick-red colour. Nose of strawberry and blueberry. Flat mouth, the fruit is gone. (10% alcohol). Cellar price : 52 000 KRW (about 38€).

Château Mani

Château Mani, the last (but not the least) winery of ​​our Korean journey – is situated right in the middle of the country, in the region of Chungcheongbuk-do**. We met with Mr Kim Giduk, the winemaker, with whom we were able to exchange a few words in English. A nice exception ! The château is a large building in a classical style and features a courtyard where the tradition is to crush the grapes barefoot into square stone basins during the harvest.

Château Mani

Château Mani


Another tradition here, which is reminiscent of the story and custom of a famous Bordeaux château : each year the estate invites a different artist to design a new label for the wines. But before tasting the wines, let’s visit the storage cellar, a mystical place lost in the mountains, 15 minutes drive from Château Mani. Thousands of bottles are sleeping on shelves along major corridors carved into the rock. I never expected to see such a place in South Korea. We didn’t stay for long because it was very cold there (only 10°C).

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Back at the château we tasted two wines ; probably the two best Korean wines.
-“Château Mani Cult Wine 2009
A red blend made from muscat bailey A and Cabernet Sauvignon. A pretty nose of strawberry and blackcurrant. Lovely on the palate with crispy fruit. Some tannin which provided good structure. Surprising. Cellar price : 28 000 KRW (about 20€).
-“Château Mani NOUVEAU 2013
A second red wine, using campbell early and made like a beaujolais nouveau, with carbonic maceration. Aromas of strawberry. A fresh and light wine to drink as an aperitif. Cellar price : 21 000 KRW (about 15€).
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In Korean dishes : spices, garlic and chilli…

“Beware of Korean dishes, they are ultra spicy” ! We were warned several times and I must admit that I had not taken the matter seriously. Because after our African trip earlier this year I thought my body seems accustomed to any spicy food. How naive…
The dishes arriving on the table were one more red than the other. There were spices, garlic and chilli everywhere. Hard for an unaccustomed European stomach… So the trick is simple : eat white rice as an accompaniment to extinguish the flames. Rather effective. And besides, it didn’t stop us from enjoying the feast, quite the contrary.

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The proof came with this excellent Korean barbecue. A classic and a must for lovers of grilled and juicy meat. Bon appétit ! 

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA
 

*Campbell early is produced in South Korea, United States, Japan and Taiwan and is known as a table grape with a taste of muscat but not as interesting for the wine industry because it requires very hard work as a grape variety.
**For more information : Château Mani

 Thank you to Sébastien Menut and Ah-Reum Kim for their invaluable assistance.

Taiwan : where vine grows between rice paddie and red dragon fruit

Welcome to Taiwan, a beautiful island of 35,961 km2 to the South East of China where there are as many scooters as there are people.

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Taiwan is a good country to live in and a place where you always feel welcomed with open arms. And it doesn’t matter that majority of the Taiwanese population do not (yet) speak good English, since the people in the street are all extremely friendly and willing to help at any time. It warms the heart.

It even appears that vines grow here…
And yes, wine made ​​in Taiwan does exist ! And its history is one of the most recent : estate wine production dates back to 2002. Prior to this farmers and homeowners were not authorised to produce their own wine and any production of vine grapes had to be sold to the Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor Corporation (TTL), the monopolist Government company.

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A custom made program

We were greeted on arrival by a team of wine lovers – growers, importers and journalists – who have concocted a week of travelling (more than attractive) for us : Estate visits, a lunch with the Vice Governor of the Changhua County, the election of “Miss Grape”, the discovery of Oolong tea and the exploration of the coast. A great program.
But first of all, let’s go to the center of the Island, to the Changhua region, where most of the country’s wineries are situated : a table grape on two growing in Taiwan is from the Changhua County.

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We arrived after a 3-hour drive from Taipei, the capital. After getting out of the car, the heat and humidity overcame us instantly. A few minutes later we were literally soaked from head to toe.

Extreme weather conditions

Making wine in Taiwan is a real challenge, both technically and humanly. The vines are often to be found between cultures of red dragon fruit and rice, and this is not by coincidence. There is constant moisture in the air. It rains a lot and the soils are always wet, which makes it difficult to reach optimal maturity of grapes.
In Taiwan there are no seasons and the climate is tropical : winters are warm – 22°C on average – and the vines never rest. Imagine… here, theoretically at least, up to 3 harvests per year is possible. But vines need dormancy to rest and to build up resources to produce vigorous grapes. Add to that the typhoons from July to September. No doubt, we are in the heart of “extreme viticulture”.
However making Taiwanese wine is not impossible. Far from it. “We just have to be passionate wine lovers; constantly attentive and working hard in both the vineyard and the cellar”, explained us Hammer Huang, the winemaker of Domaine Croissance Profonde Estate.

JB & Hammer Huang

JB & Hammer Huang


And if all the winegrowers on the Island have a common point, it is their passion for wine. As you can imagine, making wine in such conditions is a huge personal and financial investment. At some point between 2011 and 2014, 10 of the 24 existing wineries have stopped their activity and replaced there vineyards with red dragon fruit which are more profitable and less tiring : red dragon fruit are harvested more than 6 times per year, require little care and are sold at good prices in the Japanese market.

Tastings “made in Taiwan“

We have met some lovely winemakers. All working manually throughout the year, as no winery exceeds one hectare of plantation. The vines are grown using pergola* trelissing to avoid diseases. Sometimes the grapes are protected with small plastic bags – a practice generally used for table grapes. We were surprised by the size of the berries that sometimes reached the circumference of small plums.

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Some wineries are doing well qualitatively, especially bearing in mind the context.
4 wines have caught our attention:
-“Black Queen 2013“, from Domaine Croissance Profonde Estate
The only wine from the Estate with only 600 bottles produced every year! Undoubtedly the most successful wine we tasted. Nose of black fruit, vanilla and cocoa – aged 6 months in French and American oak barrels. Rich palate with lots of tannins. Fruity finish. 14% vol. Cellar price : 110 USD (environ 82€)
-“Jen Shiang N°1 white 2011“, from Peng Chiun Ding Estate
A white wine made from local grapes : hybrid creations of the owner which do not have names, but numbers. Muscat nose, dried fruit and candied lemon. Fresh and sweet in mouth. Easy drinking wine, good as an aperitif. 12% vol. Cellar price : 30 USD (about 22€)

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-“Nature & Dainties red 2012“, from Peng Chiun Ding Estate & “Imperial red wine Black Queen 2013“, from Sunshine Unbosom Estate
Red wines made of Black Queen** and aged in stainless steel tanks. Nose of currants and sour candy. Little tannins. Crispy and fresh on the palate. 12% vol. Cellar price : around 20 USD (about 15€).

« Miss Grape 2014 »

We ended this week of wine discovering in the Changhua County with an unexpected and enjoyable Sunday. Mr Ke Cheng Fang, the Vice Governor of the County wanted us to meet up to discuss the richness and the diversity of Changhua agriculture.

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The County is renowned throughout Asia for its production of flowers, grapes, grapefruit and red dragon fruit. And I can confirm that the fruit we have enjoyed during the promotional discourse were absolutely delicious.
To follow was the election of “Miss Grape 2014”, to which we were invited. This is an annual election broadcasted live on television across the country and highlighting, in its way, the virtues of local agriculture. The presenter was raging while the contestants were parading and votes appeared gradually on a screen as the viewers voted by remote control.

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The moment was nice. If someone had told me that I would see these Taiwanese contestants with grapes sewn into their dresses and hats…

Oolong – Tea’ Rolls

While recovering from our emotions, we left to the North to discover Oolong, an unique Taiwanese variety  of shrubs, giving teas with exotic fruit flavours. Producing a bag of Oolong tea is a « true work of ants »: only the young shoots of each shrub are harvested twice a year, ie the equivalent of 3 to 5 leaves per shrub. Imagine the number of shrubs needed for a cup of tea…

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Here each tea service is a ritual, a kind of testimony of gratitude to this noble product, drank and enjoyed around the world. Firstly water is poured at 90°C to open the tea leaves, and then discarded. The same is done for each cup to warm the container. Then hot water is added to the cup for about one minute – at the discretion of the master, and we drink the tea very hot, at 42 ° C. This process is repeated ten times, and then the tea leaves are changed to continue the tasting (good aromas of mango, pineapple and passion fruit…).

JB, Zhang Jia-xian & Ludo

JB, Zhang Jia-xian & Ludo


We learned that it is the fermentation of the leaves which gave power to the tea and modified its perfumes. For example green tea is unfermented tea – or very little, up to 15%. Conversely the black tea is 80 to 100% fermented. The more the tea is fermented, the more subtle the fragrance, developing  notes of damp earth and undergrowth.
One has to understand that Oolong is rare and precious. It tends to grow in mountainous areas, over 1500m in altitude. So to better understand the culture of this unique tea, we spent the night in the mountains, in the middle of a plantation, with Mr Zhang Jia-xian, a humble and talented producer. We dined under the stars sipping two Italian reds : a Langhe Rosso 2010 from Mustela and a Nebiollo d’Alba 2010 from Negretti. A little bit of Paradise.

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In closing of this magical moment, we lunched along the coast enjoying some seafood. We had the opportunity to enjoy two new culinary experiences : eating small whole local crabs – it’s good, crispy and it melts on the tongue. And something a little more adventurous – crunching a fish eye… much less appetising – it is viscous and cartilage… the second eye  remained on the soup plate !

Before leaving Taiwan for further Wine Explorers’ adventures, we simply had to experience  Xiao Long Pao, a culinary specialty invented by Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain of restaurants very famous in Asia (originally from Shanghai).

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Xiao Long Pao are among the best dumplings in the world. They are fresh pasta stuffed by hand with a preparation of pork and soup, which is accompanied by a sprig of fresh ginger and dipped in vinegar and fermented soybean sauce. An explosion of flavours and textures, between the hot soup and the freshness of the vinegar, crunchy ginger and fudge ravioli.   We have not recovered yet… To be enjoyed urgently !

WineExplorers’Cheers,
JBA

 

*Pergola : for more information, cf article on Japanese wines
**Black Queen is a Japanese hybrid grape variety 

Thank you to Mr Sanza Bulaya, Mme Daisy Hu, Mr Hammer Huang, Mr Yusen Lin et Pr Liang-Chih Chen for their warm welcome.