An unprecedented wine project wraps up next week in Beijing. Ningxia Winemakers Challenge
brought 48 candidates from 17 countries to Ningxia for harvest in 2015: each paired with a winery, received three hectares of grapes in a collective vineyard and made a wine.
A panel led by Ma Huiqin
and Andrew Caillard
will judge those wines next Tuesday, with USD100,000 in prizes. See below for full details.
This ambitious project finishes during a summer of ups and downs in the wine scene.
A big "up" this week as Lu Yang
of Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts became the first Master Sommelier
from China. Lu grew up in Xinjiang, spent his teen years in Shanghai and did a viticultural degree in Niagara. He won the second China National Sommelier Competition in 2010: the ninth is next week. More on Lu here
Another "up" was the 20th anniversary of Grace Vineyard
in Shanxi, arguably the biggest China wine success story. And still pushing the envelope, too, as the bubblies, Marselan and Aglianico of the past few years show. I asked CEO Judy Chan
20 questions: see her answers here
On a sad note, Patricio de la Fuente Saez
of Links Concept
died last month after a long fight with illness. He was a champion of family owned wineries, a loyal partner, a loving family member and friend, and an elite party animal who served as the poster child for "work hard, play hard". It's all rock ‘n’ roll, as he loved to say. More here
Even more recent is the death last week of Mike Peters
, an eight-year veteran of China Daily
who wrote extensively about food and wine, including local brands from across the country. Peters died of pancreatic cancer in Beijing and will be missed by many in the bar, restaurant and hotel scenes. More here
Hopefully there are more ups than downs ahead. And see below for details of the USD100,000 Ningxia Winemakers Challenge below.
Cheers, Jim Boyce
Beijing, August 23, 2017
—An unprecedented two-year foreign winemakers contest in the Ningxia region of China will finish next week when USD100,000 / RMB700,000 in prizes is awarded. The Ningxia Winemakers Challenge
features 48 winemakers from 17 countries who visited the region in September of 2015. Each candidate was paired with a winery, received a three-hectare parcel of grapes in a collective 18-year-old vineyard and made a Cabernet. Most of the winemakers, who call everywhere from Australia to Argentina to Italy to India to South Africa to Sweden home, have returned at least once to check their creations. The region's wine federation, with support from its wine bureau, organized the challenge.
On August 29, a panel of judges led by Ma Huiqin
, a China Agricultural University professor and top marketing expert, and Andrew Caillard
, associate producer of China documentary Red Obsession and among those who picked the 48 candidates from over 140 applicants, will evaluate the wine. They will award five gold medals (RMB100,000 / USD15,000 each) and ten silver medals (RMB20,000 / USD3,000 each). Most of the winemakers will travel to Beijing for this finale, then take their wines on a China road show. Each candidate will also receive 2,000 bottles of the wine he / she made.
This NWC was organized by the International Federation of Vine and Wine of Helan Mountain’s East Foothill, under director Hao Linha
i, with support from the Bureau of Grape Industry Development, under director Cao Kailong
. The project has helped fill knowledge gaps in this rapidly growing region, which has won more than 150 medals in international contest, received kudos from critics like Jancis Robinson
and Karen MacNeil
, and seen a steady influx of investors, winemakers, academics and writers.
The NWC is also bringing diversity to a region some see as too fixated on Bordeaux. In the bigger picture, wine is a value-added product with the potential for raising the region's standard of living, particularly if plans to boost tourism come to fruition. And many new vineyards are planted on reclaimed land and help deter desertification.
Ningxia held a smaller contest from 2012 to 2014 with seven foreign winemakers, won by David Tyney
, an Australia working in New Zealand. While they used identical equipment and stayed in the same hotel, candidates in the second NWC found themselves in wildly different situations. Partner wineries range in expertise from wily veterans to total newbies, in size from small and family owned to huge and state-owned; in equipment from having the newest and brightest to needing to improvise, and in location from the outskirts of regional capital Yinchuan to more than 100 kilometers away. Grape quality also significantly differed, with the 2015 fruit far superior to that of 2012, thus raising the potential for impressive wines.
Ningxia has some 40,000 hectares of wine grapes—many on reclaimed land—which is 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 about 100 kilometers to the north and south.
NWC is one of many Ningxia wine initiatives of the past half-dozen years. The region has also hosted wine trade shows, festivals and conferences, joined the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) as an observer, invested in wine tourism infrastructure, organized tastings in China, and launched projects to raise viticultural standards, provide quality vines and promote equipment sharing by small operations.
These efforts come at a time of change in the wine sector. A government crackdown on entertainment spending by officials four years ago cut deeply into the market. While sales have rebounded, imports have grabbed market share from local brands as increasingly savvy consumers shift their focus to taste and value, as opposed to status, as reasons for buying. With its growing wine reputation at home and abroad, Ningxia aims to anchor itself as the quality local producer in this maturing market. The region has already won over 150 medals, received praise from top critics and been featured at many fine restaurants.
Over 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), head winemaker at Finca Flichman; Nicolas Billot-Grima
(France) of F2CV, a China wine consultant since the 1990’s; Andrew Caillard (Australia), a Master of Wine and associate producer of Red Obsession; Judy Chan
(Hong Kong), CEO of widely acclaimed 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 NWC candidates: 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
For more information, contact Jim Boyce via 86-13910278041, beijingboyce (at) yahoo.com or ‘beijingboyce’ on weixin.