Influential winemaker Gerard Colin, results of the eighth annual Grape Wall Challenge and new Californian and Canadian wine efforts. Please forward this newsletter. Anyone can sign up here.
Grape Wall of China
Happy Year of the Rooster!

May the coming year see you soar, add feathers to the wings of your success and give you something to crow about.

In this issue, sad news that influential winemaker Gerard Colin, who helped lead the campaign for better Chinese wines, died this week in France. His legacy lives on in nearly every corner of the country.

Results of Grape Wall Challenge 8: we asked regular Chinese wine consumers to judge 16 labels and discuss their picks. This year's focus: local wineries with good reputations and national distribution.

And new initiatives for North American wine. Canadian company Clear Lake will start an e-commerce site and wine club while California Wine Institute is about to hit the road with classes in a dozen cities, including niche ones on Zinfandel.

As always, please pass this newsletter to others interested in China's wine scene. They can sign up themselves at this link.
Cheers, Jim Boyce
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Gerard Colin, 75, pursued quality

An influential figure in China’s modern wine industry, Gerard Colin died suddenly this week in France. He was 75. Colin rose to prominence as the first winemaker at Grace Vineyard in Shanxi, now widely seen as one of China’s best operations. It was a good pairing given his experience in Bordeaux and Grace’s use of varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. But it was only one stop for a man whose work took him from Xinjiang in the west to Shandong in the east to Xiamen in the south.

Born in Madagascar, Colin was schooled in France and completed a master of oenology degree at Bordeaux University in the 1960s. He spent over a decade at Chateau Teyssier in Saint-Emilion. His interests took him in many directions, whether to work on the commerce side at Château Clarke, head to the Caribbean for a sugar cane alcohol project, or start a consulting firm.

He first came to China in 1997, for a three-month stay in Fuzhou, then joined Grace in 2001. He was a welcoming figure for a growing flow of intrigued visitors. Alberto Fernandez of Torres, the first major distributor for Grace, said of his initial visit: “Gerard Colin received me with a big hug.” If Fernandez’s experience was like mine, Colin did so with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Snippets from this article about Colin say a lot about his attitude toward wine and China:
  • It is 10:30. In the cellar, Gérard Colin tastes a Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. “We just pressed it and got it out of the tank yesterday, it’s a baby for whom we just cut the cord. It’s very young, it’s special."
  • Our glasses are filled with a Merlot… full of carbon dioxide. Real fruit! It looks more like a grape juice yet it has 13.5 degrees of alcohol. “That is the best compliment you can give me,” said Gerard. “I have respected the raw material!”
  • “I am the only one going to the village, talking to the peasants, laughing with them and drinking tea. I hope they see it as consideration and respect. I am not a colonist, I just bring them technology, I empower them through training. When I make them taste their wine, I put down a white tablecloth!”
Colin soon found himself in demand, whether for consulting on groundbreaking projects, speaking at conferences or being interviewed by media.

He created plenty of buzz in 2009 when he became director of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) project with CITIC in Shandong. The team faced incredible challenges, he explained:

… in choosing Penglai, we knew that major works would have to be undertaken. Our teams have developed 30 hectares of hills, removing 40,000 tons of stones and building more than 9 kilometres of dry stone walls around the plots. The vineyard consists of 30 plots and more than 200 terraces.

Major works, indeed. Colin was then nearly 70 and still going strong, with projects at Puchang in Xinjiang and Taila in Shandong yet to come. But by then, his place in China wine history was secure and his unexpected death this week will no doubt have many trade people reflecting on his influence.


Note: My earliest contact with Colin came via wines like his 2013 Grace Cabernet Franc that made me believe in China’s potential. My strongest memory is from 2012 and the first Ningxia Wine Challenge. It had an equal number of Chinese and non-Chinese judges, headed by Ma Huiqin and Jancis Robinson, and Colin was a natural choice. During the event, several people asked if Colin were sick, as he kept leaving the room. An investigation revealed he was sneaking smoke breaks!

After the event, I asked about the early Grace vintages, the 2003 Cabernet Franc, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon he called special. He seemed both happy to reminisce and talk about his exciting new projects. That attitude to life will live on with many who knew him, just as the taste of those early wines still influences me, even if all that remains are empty bottles. Rest in peace, Gerard Colin.

Grape Wall Challenge Goes Local

They came, they sniffed and sipped, they scored and snacked. The eighth Grape Wall Challenge stayed true to form by featuring consumers as wine judges, this time at Pop-Up Beijing.

First held in 2009, the Grape Wall Challenge (GWC) focuses on consumers who are casual wine drinkers, both to learn about what they like and to boost their confidence around wine.

This year, GWC featured 16 wines by local producers with good reputations and national distribution. Judges tasted the wines "blind", scored each "love it", "like it", "dislike it" or "hate it", and discussed their picks with Ma Huiqin, a marketing expert and professor at China Agricultural University. They then tucked into pizzas and retried their favorite bottles.

"Overall, the judges liked the wines and their favorites more or less reflected what professionals would pick," said Ma. "They like something fruitier and most of the wines this year tended to be very juicy."

The twelve judges tried four flights: white wines and red wines under rmb165 and white wines and red wines from rmb166 to rmb320.

Cui Yunan, who does marketing in the food catering sector, said the tasting showed each wine's uniqueness.

"I was kind of a Merlot person, I never go wrong when buying it for friends, as it's sweet and fruity," she said. "But I could taste the slight differences between each wine."

She was surprised at the quality of the wines from her home region of Ningxia. "I know we have great weather for grapes, and I know we can make good wine," she said. "But I didn't know we can make it that good! It was beyond my expectations."

Her favorite was a red blend from Kanaan: "It smells good and fresh, it's soft, it's not too sweet or sour."

Pop-Up co-owner Vito Zhang said he had little experience with Chinese wines beyond those from Dynasty and Changyu. While he said the GWC wines were better, he did see room for improvement.

"My favorite was the [Bordeaux-style] Deep Blue from Grace Vineyard," he said.

In terms of scores, the consumers generally liked the white wines although no brand stood out as a clear favorite. For wines priced to rmb165, Kanaan Riesling from Ningxia (rmb150, Summergate) scored slightly higher while Grace Vineyard Tasya's Reserve Chardonnay from Shanxi (rmb308, ASC) took that honor for the pricier flight.

With the red wines, the less expensive flight was highly divisive: it received more "hate it" votes than all other flights combined. Even so, all four wines received at least one "love it" vote, showing the diversity of tastes among the judges. Silver Heights 'Last Warrior' Red Blend from Ningxia (rmb158, Torres) was the clear leader for this flight.

The more expensive flight was the favorite. Four of six wines were overwhelmingly loved / liked. Grace Vineyard 'Deep Blue' Cabernet blend (rmb308, ASC) turned out to be the highest-scoring wine of the entire tasting. One judge described it as "refined." Kanaan 'Pretty Pony' Cabernet-Merlot (rmb295, Summergate), Tiansai 'Selection' Cabernet-Shiraz (rmb328, East Meets West) and Silver Heights 'Family Reserve (rmb308, Torres) were also widely liked.

Ma noted that red wines dominate China's market, with more than an 80 percent share, and that can affect perceptions.

"Consumers definitely have more experience and confidence with red wine," she says. She added that drinking cold liquids, especially in the winter, is not common for many consumers.

GWC doesn't claim to reveal any general truths about Chinese consumers but to give a snapshot of what a particular group thinks. In short, it has three goals: to discover those consumer preferences, to give people confidence around wine, and to make sure everyone has fun. Here's the full lineup of wines.

Flight 1: White Wines <rmb165

Chateau Nine Peaks (九顶) Chardonnay 2015, Shandong Kanaan (迦南) Riesling 2014, Ningxia
  • Distributed by Summergate / Pudao, rmb150

Silver Heights (银色高地) "Last Warrior" Chardonnay, Riesling & Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Ningxia

Flight 2: White Wines rmb166-320

Grace Vineyard (怡园) "Tasya's Reserve" Chardonnay 2015, Shanxi

  • Distributed by ASC, rmb199

Silver Heights (银色高地) "Family Reserve" Chardonnay 2014, Ningxia

Tiansai (天塞) "Reserve" Chardonnay 2015, Xinjiang

Flight 3: Red Wines <rmb165

Hansen ( 汉森) Sauvignon 2015, Ningxia
Hansen ( 汉森) Cabernet Gernischt 2015, Ningxia
Kanaan (迦南) "Wild Pony" Cabernet Saugignon-Merlot-Cabernet Gernischt 2014, Ningxia
  • Distributed by Summergate / Pudao, rmb150
Silver Heights ( 银色高地) "Last Warrior" Cabernet-Merlot 2014, Ningxia
Flight 4: White Wines <rmb166-320

Chateau Nine Peaks (九顶) "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Shandong
Grace Vineyard (怡园) "Deep Blue" Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Cabernet France 2012, Shanxi
  • Distributed by ASC, rmb306
Kanaan (迦南) "Pretty Pony" Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2013, Ningxia
  • Distributed by Summergate / Pudao, rmb295
Legacy Peak (留世) Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Ningxia
Silver Heights ( 银色高地) "Family Reserve" Cabernt Sauvignon-Merlot 2014, Ningxia
Tiansai (天塞) "Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz 2013, Xinjiang

Clear Lakes Start Canadian Club

Canada offers grape lovers far more than icewine and Chinese consumers will soon have nine nice new options to try. Clear Lake Wineries will launch in Shanghai this month and sell Ontario wine via an online store and a monthly club. Named after the Great Lakes, which hold a fifth of the world’s fresh water and profoundly influence the local wine industry, the company will initially represent four operations.

  • Angel's Gate, near the city of Beamsville, planted its vines in 1996, produced its first vintage in 2000, and has grown to 35,000 cases per year. It has six vineyards at Beamsville Bench, plus properties at Creek Shores and Twenty Mile Bench, for a total of 190 acres. Winemaker Philip Dowell works with Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
  • Closson Chase is in Prince Edward County, at the east end of Lake Ontario, and owned by seven partners, including renown industry figure Deborah Paksus. It covers 30 acres, uses Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, and got under way in the late 1990’s before producing its first vintage in 2004. There are lots of links to news coverage, reviews and recommendations, including by Beppi Crosariol, Tony Aspler and Jancis Robinson, on the winery's website.
  • Malivoire, named after former movie special effects expert Martin Malivoire, is also on Beamsville Bench. It started with Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Gamay and Pinot Noir, sources from four vineyards, and now makes 24,000 cases per year. The Malivoire ‘Moira’ Chardonnay scored well in reviews by Alder Yarrow, Jamie Goode and Rick VanSickle.
  • Tawse, opened in 2005 is owned by Moray Tawse, a Burgundy lower: the stress on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is no surprise. It covers 200 acres, sources grapes from five vineyards, with the oldest vines being Chardonnay that dates to 1981 and Riesling to 1976, and makes 30,000 cases per year. Paul Pender and Rene Van Ede head up the wine-making, with an organic / biodynamic focus. There is also a label by Canadian musician Jim Cuddy of the band Blue Rodeo. Tawse was named Canadian winery of the year for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016 by Wine Align.
Back to China. Clear Lake will officially launch on February 16 at The Cannery in Shanghai (see website for tickets). Canadian-born Shanghai-based sommelier Emilie Steckenborn will lead a tasting as well as a food pairing by chef Freddy Raoult.

Mary Whittle, president of Clear Lake, says the goal is “to create a community of Canadian wine aficionados in China who we can engage with in an edutainment environment to learn about and enjoy great wine.”

California Hits the Road Again

California’s Wine Institute is hitting the road again. Master classes for the trade will be held in a dozen Chinese cities during the first half of 2017, with some stops including tastings for consumers. It’s a follow-up to the inaugural 21-city tour that spanned mid-2015 to mid-2016. And, as the program matures, classes will start to go beyond an introduction to California wines to more niche topics.

“We are expanding our master class program in 2017 due to its incredible success in 2016,” says Chris Beros, who leads the institute’s China effort.

“We see increasing interest and also knowledge about California wines, so we are adding new classes in 2017 that will be more specific to a particular region or varietal,” he adds. “There is clearly an increased interest in California wines and this is also reflected in very strong wine export data from the United States in 2016.”

Here’s a look at the schedule, including which stops have the introductory class that covers grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir, the niche class focused on Zinfandel, and / or a consumer tasting. 

Nanjing | February 20
Introduction to California Wines / Consumer Tasting 

Ningbo | February 22 
Introduction to California Wines 

Hangzhou | February 24 
Introduction to California Wines / Consumer Tasting 

Wuhan | March 28 
Introduction to California Wines / Consumer Tasting 

Changsha | March 30 
Introduction to California Wines / Consumer Tasting 

Nanning | April 10 
California Zinfandel / Consumer Tasting 

Dongguan | March 12 
Introduction to California Wines 

Fuzhou | March 14 
California Zinfandel Niche Class 

Tianjin | June 12 
Introduction to California Wines / Consumer Tasting 

Qingdao | June 14 
California Zinfandel Niche Class / Consumer Tasting 

Jinan | June 16 
California Zinfandel Niche Class 

There will also be a California vintners tour, including master classes, in May for Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou, with a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. And a master class at the Southwest University of Finance & Economics in Chengdu in March.  Here are a few posters from the first tour:

Read Grape Wall here. Follow on Facebook here and Twitter here. And subscribe to the newsletter here. Reach Jim Boyce at grapewallofchina (at)

Note: The content of this newsletter is general information. I make no guarantee as to its completeness or accuracy. Use it at your own risk. In other words, I try hard to be accurate, but mistakes can happen, so reader beware! Also, I'm not a fan of spam and aim to send this newsletter only to people who signed up at Grape Wall blog or agreed by email or in person to receive it. If you did not request it, but are receiving it, something has gone awry. You can unsubscribe at the bottom or let me know at grapewallofchina (at) Cheers, Jim Boyce
10 February 2017
Grape Wall covers China's wine scene. Winery visits, tastings, news, reviews, and interviews .Since 2007. Administered by Jim Boyce. Get the newsletter here.
E-mail me here.
Q&A. Check Grape Wall's sessions with wine people inside and outside China.
Back issues. Check out the most recent ones.

Issue 31
Shanghai retail, Beijing sommeliers, Ningxia wine bureau, new wine bars,

Issue 30
Grace-ASC partner, La Cava closes, Gansu vineyards, charity and wine in China

Issue 29
Riesling wins Wine 100, East Meets West-Tiansai partner, Pudao turns seven

Issue 28
A four-year study of wine tastes, the rise of Yunnan, anatomy of a vintage in Shanxi

Issue 27
Grape Wall Challenge results, CruItaly's Rory Quirk, CHEERS wine

Issue 26
Mas La Plana, Signature Wine Club, charity events
Events. When we put down our wine and organize stuff.
Grape Wall Challenge
Chinese consumers are judges in this annual blind tasting.
China Wine Tour
The tour covered four bars, a Chinese red and white wine at each. Details here.
North by Northwest
Wine experts, chefs and journalists try Chinese wine. See here for the results.

Ningxia vs Bordeaux
Five wines from each region were blind-tasted by ten experts. The results were a bit controversial. Details here
I started World Baijiu Day in 2015 to introduce people to this nation's top drink, a grain-based spirit with over 10 billion bottles sold per year. The event is back with dozens of events planned in London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Sydney and other cities. Details here.
A Final Word

Grape Wall has covered the China wine scene since 2007 and requires time and money for hosting services, travel costs, and more. Four ways to support it:

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Thanks to those who have already helped Grape Wall.

Cheers, Jim Boyce

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