Winemaking on the Edge: Ningxia 2015


When I first saw the announcement that China was calling for international winemakers to come to Ningxia back in 2012 I was intrigued. However, being 7 months pregnant at the time and about to begin a job transition, it didn’t seem like the timing was on my side. This year, when I saw that Ningxia was once again asking for international winemakers, I jumped at the chance and was so excited to be selected. This past September, I joined 48 fellow winemakers from 18 different countries, in Yinchuan, Ningxia Provence, China. I was paired with a beautiful new winery called Lansai. It was still under construction while I was there but should be finished by the time I return in February. My hosts are very friendly and we get along quite well. It was a simple life at the winery, which is hard work but relaxing at the same time. I felt the sense of calm that I have always found when working in the vineyard. It was physically demanding but mentally relaxing. There was limited cell phone coverage and with all of my family and friends being twelve hours behind me anyway, there was little onus to pick up my phone, which is usually in my pocket if not my hand from rising to going to sleep when I am at home. There, my biggest concern was my wine.  
I was able to focus 100% of my time to making the best wine possible and was encouraged to spare no effort or cost on making it. These normally split second decisions in the fast paced work I usually lead, became a type of contemplation, with a calculated weighing of options and leisurely choice to be made. There is a sense of community at Lansai that stems from many of the workers and the owners living here at the property. Most of the people are family or good friends of my hosts and are going about general daily chores and then all come together when something needs to be done at the winery. My 15 Tonnes of Cabernet Sauvignon took 18 hours to sort. It was the most enthusiastic crew that I had ever worked with. Everyone was all smiles and excited to be a part of the making of it. We ended up sorting out a full 1.5 tonnes that did not make the strict quality standards that I put in place and which were controlled by the owner’s wife with the discipline that would make a military general proud.  

The Cellar crew (pictured left) were rapid learners and although I spoke no Chinese and they spoke no English we managed to communicate extremely well via sign language and pantomimes. I did have an interpreter the entire time however there were often times in the cellar when it was easier to speak directly to the crew to explain what I wanted to happen. Mr. Wu, (second from right in white shirt) the winemaker, was excited to work with me and listened attentively to everything from the proper way to rehydrate yeast to controlling films on the top of tanks to pump overs. There is definitely a thirst for winemaking knowledge in Ningxia which I feel was the main driving reason behind the Ningxia Challenge.  

The vineyards around the winery of Lansai are very well tended and look like one would expect a high end winery vineyard to look like. The vineyard where we got our fruit was not as pretty but from what I can see so far, produces sound fruit after much sorting. The color seems good, the body is on the lighter side but that may be a product of my picking date less than the inherent qualities of the region. I was pleasantly surprised to find all my preferred yeasts and barrels represented in the region which made winemaking easier. The two things that seemed to be lacking were DAP (Diammonium phosphate) and knowledge of Copper Sulfate treatments, which I did need after a tank got particularly warm when the chilling was accidentally turned to heating while trying to heat a near-by tank. Luckily a nearby winery had some in their lab and I was able to turn the wine back around.
I am so excited about the quality of my wine lot. It is much better than I anticipated given what I had tasted before from the area. I am looking forward to going back and seeing how the wine looks after some time aging in barrel. I can’t wait to visit with my Chinese family again and continue my Chinese language education, having picked up some basic phrases the last time I was there. I have high hopes about what the judges will see in 2017 from all of the winemakers. Overall it has been an amazing experience and it has only just begun!

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  • Snooth User: rhw168
    635553 144

    Nova, would you like to have a bilingual (native Pǔtōnghuà & English) wine enthusiast to accompany the international winemakers to the next wine challenge in YinChuan? I would volunteer! :-)

    Jan 28, 2016 at 6:39 PM

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