I have not posted on my trip to Zhongguo for awhile, but I think of it almost daily. When I do not, I am reminded by the news articles and reports on China that seem to make their way across my desktop with remarkable regularity.
Today, our day trip from Xi’an to the Jade Valley Wine Resort in Lantian County came to mind.
On a day blessed with unusually clear skies we made our way out to the valley. I passed the time musing about what I had heard and read about wine production in China. Jancis Robinson the famous wine writer comes to mind. Last year when she decided to donate her papers to the wine library at UCDavis, I had the good fortune to attend her talk. In the course of that talk she spoke of her many trips to the wine regions of China. Inspired by her enthusiasm I began to delve into her articles on the same. Along with reading I watched several videos on the development of Chinese wines on You Tube.
I had also done research on the general history of winemaking including China, when my partner and I did background work for our book The Glass of Wine. I knew that Vitus vinifera has a long, history in China, but only since opening to the west have the Chinese made heavy investments into developing a wine industry. Along with acquiring major chateaus in France and California they have set aside thousands of acres in China for production. Little surprise that on a trip to Bordeaux a while back, I witnessed several groups of Chinese touring some of the finest, grand-cru chateaus.
I am not going to take the time here to even begin to get into all of what has and is happening in the broad world of China’s current wine development. I felt blessed to have a great experience in the Jade Valley and will limit my sharing to that.
As we approached the valley I kept an eye out for the vineyards that would signal our arrival in wine country. Although I failed to see vineyards, I was mesmerized by geometrically shaped patches of in-season mustard.
We reached the small town of Yushan in the shadow of the winery, but still no vineyards.
After struggling with directions we sought guidance from a local. He pointed us toward the edge of town where a small, winding road ascended the side of a hill to our destination. Not until we pulled up alongside the winery did I get my first sight of vineyards sliding down the opposite side of the hill. Aside from that vineyard I saw no other signs of winemaking. Several wineries have opened in the valley, but vineyards, like those in Mendoza, Argentina are a far distance from one another.
After greeting us warmly, the winemaker welcomed us into the winery and took his time sharing some background on the winery.
It turns out that the founder of the Jade Wine Resort Qingyun Ma, is not only an internationally known architect, but the Dean of Architecture at USC. Over the years he would travel to Yushan to visit his family. During those visits he saw the potential of the land for producing wine and in 2000 founded the Jade Valley Winery. Now, one of the top ranked wineries in Shanxi province, it produces basic varietals: cabs, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay, rose and a persimmon dessert wine. Not only a winery, Ma also designed and built a resort with dorms and/or private rooms for visitors.
During the discussion and to my great surprise I learned that the only people who can own the land in China are farmers. The winery owners must lease land from the farmers and the farmers get to work the winery. Ma taught the farmers both the art of winemaking and fine construction. A win-win situation for all concerned Ma brought not only a winery and resort, but work for locals.
A tour of the winery and the resort followed our talk.
Bacchus of course!
Entry to the resort rooms
I have sipped Bordeaux in Saint-Emilion, Cab in Napa, Riesling in Alsace, Cannonau in Sardinia, Tempranillo in Spain, but as I sampled the varieties that were offered my eyes wondered over the vineyard lined land below and a now familiar question repeated itself. Am I really in China tasting wine made from grapes grown within a stone’s throw of where I stood? A full bodied red with balanced tannins, having a long, velvety finish convinced me.
Just after I completed the above, I had one of those walk-in-the-door surprises land on my desktop. A serendipitous gift for sure. A YouTube interview with Quingyun Ma. Hope you have time to watch it.
At the end of the day having returned to Xi’an, we went to dinner at one of the fine restaurants in our hotel. I assumed that Jade Valley Wines with such close proximity would dominate the wine menu. Wrong. As the journey through China went forward I would seek out Chinese wines. On occasion a bottle, would appear on the menu, but rarely a wine by the glass. Hoping that by the trip’s end I would have had the opportunity to do further tasting I was disappointed. It is my hope that as Chinese wines continue to improve, confidence will grow and some of the French and Chilean options (by the glass) will be replaced by local wines.