Corrans, who works at Separator, was formerly at producer The Bergkelder, and partnered in Ningxia with Lanxuan winery, won for best wine of the competition. His fellow gold medal winners were Australian Tony Kalleske
, of Kalleske Wines, who paired with winery Legacy Peak, American Brent Trela
of Alert Aesthetics, who paired with Miqin, and winemaking consultants Slavina Stefanova
from Sweden and Sarah Williams
from the UK, who paired with Yunmo and Hezun respectively. Each gold medalist won RMB100,000 / USD15,000.
The ten silvers were won by Mariana Paez
(Argentina) at Bacchus, Maria Tapia
(Chile) at Xin Niu, Ruben Rodriguez
(Spain) at Pushang, Matthew van der Spuy
(UK) at Luoshan and Nova Cadamatre
(US) at Lansai. Australians Paul Gobell
at Pernod Ricard, Kelly Pearson
at Lan Shan and Steve Simpson
at Haixiang Yuan and New Zealanders Jennifer Bound
at Yuan Ge and Peter Mackey
at Ningjue rounded out the silvers. Each silver medalist won RMB20,000 / USD3,000. All 48 winemakers are entitled to 2,000 bottles of wine. (The winners are also listed here
The ten-member judging panel, chaired by Ma Huiqin
and Andrew Caillard
, spent an intense three hours tasting and talking. They cut the initial 48 wines to a final round of 15, then picked five gold and 10 silver medalists. The judges included Monika Christmann
, Alberto Fernandez
, Marcus Ford
, Frank Hao
, Stephen Li
, Jorg Philipp
, Hans Qu
and Terry Xu
. (See the judges' biographies at bottom.)
I helped organize the tasting and we took extreme measures to bag, mix and number the bottles, all identical, to ensure random serving. The Ningxia auditing bureau and an independent source filmed this process.
Once the medalists were picked, we immediately revealed the labels to the judges, with the winning names matching those announced at an awards ceremony an hour later. (Several non-medalists told me, and some of the judges, that they had tried the NWC wines a few days before in Yinchuan and largely agreed with our top picks, a nice affirmation.)
NWC was organized by the International Federation of Vine and Wine of Helan Mountain’s East Foothill, led by Hao Linhai
, with support from the Bureau of Grape Industry Development, led by Cao Kailong
While all 48 winemakers used Cabernet grapes from an 18-year-old winery, their experiences varied greatly. Partner wineries ranged in expertise from seasoned veterans to absolute newcomers, in size from small and family owned to huge and state-owned, in equipment from new and shiny to needing improvisation; and in location from the outskirts of regional capital Yinchuan to over 100 kilometers away.
I helped find the candidates for NWC and told them from the start that this project would be as much a communications challenge as a winemaking one, whether that meant dealing with the authorities, with their partner wineries or with each other. There were many moments of sheer frustration and utter joy during the past two years, and I have no doubt it will have a lasting impact on all parties involved.
Ningxia has about 40,000 hectares of wine grapes—many on reclaimed land—about a third of the area cultivated in Bordeaux and double that of Napa Valley. There are 187 registered wineries. While the most famous are near the Helan Mountains west of Yinchuan, others range some 100 kilometers north and south.
The region has won over 150 medals in international contests in recent years, received kudos from critics such as Jancis Robinson
and Karen MacNeil
, and drawn a steady flow of investors, winemakers, academics and writers. The NWC has helped fill knowledge gaps in this rapidly growing wine region and brought diversity to a place often fixated on Bordeaux.
Ningxia still faces plenty of challenges, including the need to bury its vines each fall as protection from harsh winter weather, concerns its wines are priced too high and thus difficult to sell, and the rise of competing regions in China, but it continues to push ahead with a wide range of initiatives. During the past half-dozen years, it has hosted wine trade shows, festivals and conferences, joined the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) as an observer, invested in wine tourism infrastructure, and launched programs to raise viticultural standards and promote equipment sharing by small operations. Ningxia held a smaller winemakers challenge, with seven candidates, from 2012 to 2014.
These efforts come during a time of major change in the wine sector. A government crackdown on spending by officials four years ago cut deeply into the market. While sales have rebounded, imports have grabbed market share from local brands as savvier consumers increasingly buy for taste and value rather than status. With its rising wine reputation at home and abroad, Ningxia aims to establish itself as the quality local choice in a maturing market.
More than 140 winemakers applied for NWC during an online campaign in the summer of 2015. Six judges with China wine experience chose the finalists: German Berra
(Argentina) of winery Finca Flichman; Nicolas Billot-Grima
(France) of consultancy F2CV; Andrew Caillard
(Australia), associate producer of China wine documentary Red Obsession; Judy Chan
(Hong Kong), CEO Grace Vineyard in Shanxi; Amy Lee
(U.S.), a winemaker with 20 years of China sales experience; and Tersina Shieh
(Hong Kong), a marketer turned winemaker who has joined harvests in Ningxia.
The 48 NWC Winemakers
Pablo Laborde, Argentina | Mariana Páez, Argentina | Juan Pina, Argentina | Cesar Gastón Sepúlveda, Argentina | Mike Gadd, Australia | Paul Gobell, Australia | Tony Kallaske, Australia | Mathew Kirby, Australia | Joanna Marsh, Australia | Stephen McEwen, Australia | Kelly Pearson, Australia | Chris Sargeant, Australia | Mathias Regner, Austria | Alexander Velianov, Bulgaria | Jose Hernández, Chile | Jacqueline Lizama, Chile | Maria Tapia, Chile | Pierre Viala, France | Priyanka Kulkarni, India | Parikshit Teldhune, India | Denise Cosentino, Italy | Alessio Fortunato, Italy | Gianpaolo Paglia, Italy | Mauricio Ruiz Cantu, Mexico | Leonardo Ricardez, Mexico | Vadim Burunsus, Moldova | Peter Bristow, New Zealand | Jennifer Bound, New Zealand | Glenn James, New Zealand / Australia | Peter Mackey, New Zealand | Andrew Powley, New Zealand | Steve Simpson, New Zealand | Spring Timlin, New Zealand | Joel Santos, Portugal | Justin Corrans, South Africa | Alwyn Liebenberg, South Africa | Carsten Migliarina, South Africa | Elena Alejos, Spain | Ana Pecero, Spain | Ruben Rodriguez, Spain / Australia | Slavina Stefanova, Sweden | Stuart Rusted, UK | Matthew van der Spuy, UK | Sarah Williams, UK | Nova Cadamatre, United States | Chris Chang, United States | Brian Cheeseborough, United States | Brent Trela, United States
The 10 NWC Judges
CAILLARD Andrew [co-chair] | Consultant at large for Pinnacle Drinks in Australia. Master of Wine, founder of Langton's wine auction house, associate producer of China wine documentary Red Obsession and co-founder of Caillard Wine. Co-chairs Wine 100 in Shanghai and is a judge in the Japan Wine Challenge and numerous other contests.
CHRISTMANN Monica | President of the Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV). Department head for Oenology and Wine Technology at Geisenheim Research Institute, holder of graduate degrees in oenology and agricultural science, and judge at Grands Concours du Monde, the Wine Innovation Awards and global OIV panels.
FERNANDEZ Alberto | Managing partner of Torres China and 17-year China wine sector veteran. Helped establish fine Chinese wine as distributor of Silver Heights (Ningxia) since first vintage in 2007 and Grace Vineyard (Shanxi) from 2004 to 2016. Sought-after speaker for China wine conferences.
FORD Marcus | 18-year China wine sector veteran, as former restaurant manager of M on the Bund, GM of retailer Pudao Wines and head of wine at Langton's East Asia. Judge for Decanter Asia Wine Awards, Wine 100 and both the 2012 and 2014 Ningxia Wine Challenges.
HAO Frank | Manager and sommelier at Italian restaurant Tavola. Previously at Sureno (Opposite House) and Opera Bombana. Certification from Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET and Asia Wine Institute. Finalist in the inaugural National Sommelier Competition in 2009.
LI Stephen | Founder of Stephen Wine. WSET-certified wine educator with partners in a half-dozen cities throughout China. Frequent judge, including for China Wine Challenge, Wines of Chile and Wine in China. Guest speaker at this year’s MUST conference.
MA Huiqin [co-chair] | China Agricultural University professor and wine marketing expert. Administers programs with universities in Australia, Chile, Israel and the U.S. Judge for Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Competition, La Revue du Vin de France (China) and Wine 100. Chair of Ningxia Wine Challenges in 2012 and 2014.
PHILIPP Jörg | Founder of German consultancy Degustar and wine school Vinoria in Germany in 2001. Based in China since 2011 and Asia rep for the PAR wine scoring system. Visited 60-plus Ningxia wineries in 2016. Judged in PAR International Organic Wine Awards and PIWI International Awards, among other contests.
QU Hans | Managing director at Cuatro Sol Wine & Culture. Wine educator, translator, sommelier and winner of the first China National Sommelier Competition in 2009. Certification from International Sommelier Guild. Judge for Wines of Chile, Wines of Argentina, 2012 Ningxia Winemakes Challenge and RvF China.
XU Terry | Co-founder of wine consultancy Aroma Republic, influential blogger and famous for reaching mass market consumers. WSET-certified educator with qualifiations from CIVB (Bordeaux), Burgundy (BIVB) and A+ Australian Wine, among other producing regions / nations.
The NWC has been a roller-coaster experience and I plan to write several Grape Wall
blog posts about it. For now, I am happy we had a fair tasting in Beijing, thanks to Vincent Xie and his painstaking work in gathering and shipping the bottles from Ningxia and to Ma Huiqin and Andrew Caillard for their superb job of co-chairing the panel of judges. More on this soon!