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As we look back on the past year, we have so much to celebrate. From another group of amazing...

2018: A Year In Review

As we look back on the past year, we have so much to celebrate. From another group of amazing Pinotage Youth Development Academy graduates to two of our lecturers attending the Wine and Spirits Education Trust Educators course. In no particular order, here are six of our favourite moments from 2018.

Cathy Passes Her Masters Of Wine Year 1:

In June this year, Cathy Marston, head of The Wine Centre passed the first year of her Masters of Wine course. This prestigious and rigorous course is well know for its intensity and difficulty. People become Masters of Wine by passing the stage 1 assessment (S1A) and the three parts of the Master of Wine examination (theory and practical examination and the research paper). Candidates need to achieve a pass in both the theory and practical papers within five attempts over six years. Read more about the course here.

 

WineLand Magazine Article:

The below fantastic article was written by Tshepang Molisana, a WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 graduate and writer, about the day in the life of a wine educator featuring Cathy Marston for September's WineLand Magazine.

 

International Wine Challenge Sponsorships:

Eric and Victor from Eziko Cooking School in Langa with Chris and Alex of the International Wine Challenge over from the UK in January giving the thumbs-up for another successful year of IWC sponsorship of WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) training for their students.

 

Continued Involvement With Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA):

This year we continued our involvement with the Pinotage Youth Development Academy and saw several WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 graduates and the first WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 3 graduate, Shannon Fortuin pictured below right with her cousin Flordeliza Fortuin (also a Level 2 graduate).

 

Cathy Tours Jerez And Becomes A Certified Sherry Educator:

In October, Cathy Marston, head of The Wine Centre, travelled, tasted and learned about Sherry as part of her Masters of Wine training at the Consejo Regulador's Certified Sherry Educators course in Jerez, Spain (Vinos de Jerez Sherry Wines).

 

The Wine Centre Lecturers Attend The WSET Educators Course In London:

Debi van Flymen and Elizma Myburgh Venter attended the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Educators course in London in December. We’re so lucky to have such knowledgeable and talented women on our team and can’t wait to see what they get up to with their new qualification.

 

Catching Up With WSET Lecturers During Cape Wine:

In September Cathy caught up with some WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) lecturers after Cape Wine.

Japan, and especially the Katsunuma valley we were visiting, prides itself on their local grape varietals, mostly so Koshu...

The Koshu of Katsunuma by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Japan, and especially the Katsunuma valley we were visiting, prides itself on their local grape varietals, mostly so Koshu & Muscat Bailey A. Having sampled mass-produced examples of both on the lead up to our visit, we were anticipating some more diverse offerings from the small-scale wineries on our itinerary. As a bit of history, Koshu is a native grape, approximately 98% vitis vinifera but still commonly used as a table grape. It tends to be quite airy & needs a bit of acidity to perk it up from what we've learned. Muscat Bailey A is a crossing of American varietal, Bailey A & Muscat Hamburg, typically very light & fragrant. Both Koshu & Muscat Bailey A share a distinctive subtlety which is a perfect match for the extreme subtlety of the flavours in most Japanese cuisine. In Katsunuma in particular, where mildew is a constant challenge due to high rainfall, it is the exception rather than the rule to find wines that have not been chaptalised in order to increase the alcohol volume, where wines with no sugar added during fermentation (that's the chaptalisation) tend toward an alcohol of 8%.

While our first visit of the day, to Marifuji, left much to be desired in terms of wine, it was the only opportunity we had for a cellar tour. And an unusual cellar it was at that. With no temperature control in the wine storage area & old sake storage tanks being repurposed for wine storage, we did express mild concern about the excessive heat common in the area. Our Sommelier-turned-winemaker host seemed unfazed. In turn, we were rather unfazed by the wine, unfortunately.

We found a completely different approach at Katsanuma Winery, just 10 minutes walk away.

Here, we were greeted with the option to taste 5 current release wines - which ended up closer to 10. We tasted Koshu in so many sharps & forms, I was absolutely astonished. From unoaked, lightly sur lie to aged & oaked examples, from sticky sweet to wines concentrated by freezing the must & removing the water. What a showcase of a very diverse bit of fruit, supported by somewhat unexpected labels - all designed by an octogenarian woman in Portugal.

Our next stop entailed a walk up a hill, past numerous thick-trunked single vines trellised to the height of a compact delivery vehicle & covering almost an entire field, carrying up to 500 bunches.

Here, at Grace Vineyards, we met with the winemaker - a student of Bordeaux who has spent some time harvesting in South Africa (at Cape Point Vineyards & Hermanuspietersfontein respectively). While the majority of winemakers in the region are content with buying fruit from these typically bulk-bearing vines, at Grace there is much more stringent focus on the vineyards with massal management being practised in a select vineyard planted in 2002 in the Toribira region - touted to be the best vines in Japan. And the results are evident from tasting & confirmed by Decanter with one wine scoring 95 & another being awarded Best Wine in Asia - although you'll never know from the  bottle. They don't use the stickers - they spoil the aesthetic.

A longer walk brought us to a more diverse winery, Kurambom, focusing on natural & organic wines. Another interesting set of labels - this time inspired by the artist's imagination after tasting the wines. From a Koshu bottled after 1 month's fermentation to the bottle of "happiness vintage" Chardonnay that had been open for 3 weeks & a sparkling Aldiron (another new grape) that was pretty much as close to Fanta Grape as one can imagine; we certainly saw a different side of Japanese winemaking. A side we would explore further at Haramo, where blended grapes abound. Their Rouge includes an array of experimental crossings resulting in a fresh, tart cherry, gummy kind of palate. Their variety of Koshu showed the impact of altering harvest time, yeast, fining, barrel age, bottle age & lees contact.

By this point, we were well & truly Koshu-ed out & made our way back to Kofu to contemplate the intricacies of Koshu.

Thank goodness that was before we fell down the rabbit hole that is sake!

More images here at Google Photos.

Read more on Leigh-Ann's blog here.

After the trials of planning & executing a wine tour in China (all well worth the effort in the...

Wine Joy in Japan by Leigh-Ann Luckett

After the trials of planning & executing a wine tour in China (all well worth the effort in the end, however) - planning for Japan was a dream! Detailed brochures & maps of our selected area, Yamanashi, prepared just the year before by the tourism department gave us a good steer. These were supported by many suggestions & bits of advice from the wineries themselves - we were even reminded to wear sunscreen! The locals in nearby Kofu (and even Tokyo), where we based ourselves, were proudly aware of the wine industry in nearby Katsanuma & very happy to share their personal favourites, another contrast to Yinchuan. From a country where approximately 50% of the population are alcohol intolerant & only 3% of the drinkers prefer wine, we were impressed. We were rather optimistic about what lay ahead, despite several warnings that there may not be English staff available when we planned to visit.

Arriving in Kofu the day before our winelands excursion, we keenly planned to go about laying some groundwork in the form some pre-emptive tasting at wine bars dotted along the high street. High prices coupled with small by-the-glass selections & the ever-present "seat charge" put a swift end to that idea, especially since most Japanese wine is more expensive in Japan than imports (KWV is the staple South African representative, we learned) & only 1/3 of the wine sold in Japan is local; however we did manage to find a small gem with good quality wines at less than extortionate prices. A bit of chatting explained why many Japanese wines are bottles in 720mls (using traditional sake bottles produced locally which are cheaper), an indication of a keen awareness of South African wines & suggestions for some splendid dinner.

Well sated with a deliciously simple tempura dinner, we looked forward to quality wines ahead.

More images here at Google Photos

After much debate on the best way to spend our last morning in Ningxia - to hedge bets &...

China Winelands – Day 3 – Silver Heights by Leigh-Ann Luckett

After much debate on the best way to spend our last morning in Ningxia - to hedge bets & stay near the city, visiting Silver Height's original facility before our flight or get an early start & venture an hour toward the mountains to their new location built in 2014. We chose the latter & were well rewarded for our sense of adventure. From very little on the way to the next village to the sudden bustle around the local tourist attraction, a film studio used for many period movies; and back to almost nothing; right at the wooden watch tower & we were there. There being a large, low, red warehouse-like building, 8 times the size of the facility in the city.

We were met by a bubbly American, Alexa, who heads up marketing & communications. An interesting contrast to our previous experiences, with fast flowing English and outsider insights into the industry. Winemaker, Emma, shared extremely insightful anecdotes around the industry - both past & present. From government controls over varietals imported (explaining the high concentration of Bordeaux varietals), to terroir, pricing to recover costs of setting up wineries by the current generation & the Gold Rush for land in Ningxia.

Silver Heights began as a bit of a premonition on the part of winemaker, Emma's, father. He planted some of the first vines in the area, with the belief that there was potential for successful winemaking, and promptly shipped Emma off to Bordeaux to study winemaking in 1999 where she met husband, Thierry, who returned to China with her. Husband & wife team are now responsible for the increasingly well-reputed wines thanks to Emma's previous employer, a wine distributor, who told her to bugger off & make wine full time after tasting some of what she was making in her spare time.

And it's easy to see why.

From a floral yet fresh Chardonnay (the first vintage released), to beautifully structured & layered reds - The Summit (Cab Sauv, Shiraz, Merlot blend) being described by dear Jancis Robinson as "just the wine to confound prejudices".

And, overall, the wine we experienced in China did just that. Gan bei, Ningxia!

More images on Google Photos

As the day drew to a close, we had one final stop ahead - the first our driver was...

China Winelands – Day 2 Zhihue Yuanshi by Leigh-Ann Luckett

As the day drew to a close, we had one final stop ahead - the first our driver was actually certain of the location of.

Also, certainly the most beautiful we had visited to date. The chateau, the largest in the region, is a tribute to the owner's (who never drinks a drop of wine) love for rock & stone, showcased in a multitude of forms. From the buildings themselves, to intricate carvings & artworks tastefully dotted throughout; and soon to include a rock museum as well. Construction on the chateau began in 2008, to be completed in 2014. This seems an awfully long time on paper, but a walk through the winery & surrounds quickly reveals the extreme attention to detail, accounting for the time spent. From stone & rock collected throughout China, to ceilings lined with interwoven twigs to buffer sound & boundary walls constructed from rounded  tiles to allow birds to nest.

Accompanied by winemaker, Sujie, we toured the production facility, comprising only machinery imported from Italy; the extensive cellar & private cellaring for clients who purchase whole barrels & bottle with their own labels; through a number of tasteful displays to the tasting room where the ceiling is crafted from the skeleton of the hull of an old ship, with the tables & chairs crafted from the same wood.

Here, we tasted through a lovely, bronze Decanter winning unoaked  Chardonnay, of which very little was bottled due to limited demand for white wine in the local market (the rest of the harvest was used for brandy production); a 2013 Cab Sauv with a spot of 2014 added to perk it up; the estate's flagship red blend, Soul Mountain (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc & Merlot); and a very interesting private project of Sujie's - an unfiltered & unfined Cab Sauv 2014 of which only 800 bottles were produced. While we were delighted at the honour & impressed by each wine in turn, Sujie remained critical of her work.

We felt this was a fantastic end to a fascinating & highly rewarding day. We looked forward to day 3.

 

More images on Google Photos

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China. Named after a poem...

China Winelands – Day 2 – Joyful Jing & Jia Bei Lan by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China.

Named after a poem about 1 of the 8 revered landscapes of the Ming Dynasty (no, I'm not clear on the details of what that means), Helan Qingxue claims the best view of this landscape at the foot of the Helan Mountains.

Established in 2005 by a viticulturist, winemaker & business manager, the winery was the first in China to win an international accolade in 2011 in the form of a Decanter International Trophy. The wines, called Jia Bei Lan or "Little Feet" in honour of the birth of dynamic winemaker, Jing's daughter, have continued to grow from strength to strength since, with growing export opportunities & a stream of praise from international wine lovers. All of this we learned from the obligatory corporate video with a few tidbits from Jing herself.

Our host was happy to meet South Africans after playing host to a South African winemaker in 2012 during the inaugural Ningxia International Wine Challenge - a competition created & funded by the local government with a little help from the participating wineries; which allows a selection of winemakers from across the globe to produce a vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon over 2 years with a cash prize awarded to the wine judged as best. There are 3 South African participants in the current challenge.

We toured the, again, immaculate cellar, tasting the new vintage of entry-level Cab on its way to bottle as we made our way around; passing locally made bee-hive shaped tanks (which Jing was the first to use due the shape being ideal for red pump overs & press downs due to the shape) & barrels signed by the many notable international visitors while discussing the enthusiasm of Chinese wine-lovers to gain their WSET Level 4 qualifications, with over 20 Level 4 graduates to date.

This led us to the Cellardoor which is set to launch in the next year including a simple food offering. Lined up to taste, we had an unwooded Chardonnay in a Riesling bottle (tinned peas & lime on the nose with apricots & citrus on the palate); a Cab Franc Rosé (slightly sweet despite its savoury nose); a Cab Merlot blend (Moroccan spice & grippy tannins); & a Reserve Cab (eucalyptus & light violets). Again - all Bordeaux varietals. From Jing's perspective, these are the best varietals for the area which requires grapes with a short growing period to allow sufficient time for the vines to rest after harvest,  before being buried for winter (an activity which accounts for 30% of the production cost of the wine). Thoroughly enamoured with the wines, the winery & the winemaker, it was unfortunately time for us to bid farewell. No time for us to rest; our next stop beckoned.

 

More photos here - Google Photos

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China. Legacy Peak, our next...

China Winelands – Lovely Legacy Peak by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China.

Legacy Peak, our next stop, could not be more of a contrast to Changyu. Simple & understated, the only show of pomp being a row of empty wine bottles from around the world which the director prized (including a Vilafonte Series C 2008) & a small plate of Iberian ham on the table laid out for our tasting. There was even shock at the idea of not being allowed to taste when we enquiries whether there would, indeed, be wine on the cards.

The first winery in the area to export their wines, Legacy Peak is also the oldest vineyard in the Ningxia province with vines planted in 1996, set amongst the 1000 year old Xixia King Tombs. This certainly adds to the scenery but puts the vines & expansion plans at risk should the government go ahead with plans to reclaim the land the farm occupies. Not that there isn't enough risk as is with the icy cold winters - every year approximately 20 - 30% of vines up to 6 years of age don't survive despite being bent over & buried up to the first trellis line. Sometimes all that survives are the cement posts - preferred to wood as they're cheaper, easily available & last longer than the traditional wooden posts. The 450 mu (approximately 3,75 ha) of organic vines sit at 1246m above sea level & consist mainly of - you guessed it - Bordeaux varietals Chardonnay, Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon with a spot of a French hybrid grape, Marselan (a hybrid of Cab Sauv & Grenache). There's also a sense here that China is still finding its feet with which varietals are best suited to the land and what the defining characteristic of Chinese wine will be.

We dutifully set about exploring this. The Chardonnay beautifully floral on the nose with fresh litchi & elegant citrus on the palate; the rosé a little sweet (thanks, market) tinged with geraniums; the Cabernets - Estate & flagship, Kalavinka, both bold with slightly spicy red fruits & to be afraid of ageing.

We further explored the wines with many toasts, over a generous lunch of local lamb with the team. We were back in luck, twice over.

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China. Bellies full of noodles,...

China Winelands – The Chateau of Changyu by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China.

Bellies full of noodles, we were ready for an 08:00 start at Changyu's Chateau Moser XIII. The Chateau was named in honour of Mr Moser XIII, the pioneer of trellising, and grandson Lenz Moser XV currently stands as chief winemaker. Moser is one of 6  chateaux in China, 2 in France & 1 each in Italy, Spain & New Zealand. And they're not kidding about the chateau part. Changyu's founder, who brought wine vines to China in 1892, went on to win a gold medal at the international exhibition held in San Francisco in 1915 at the opening of the Panama Canal. The flair for showmanship has lived on. Moser boasts an in house theatre; museum; an interactive wine education centre where you can test your smell recognition, learn about taste receptors & pair varietals with foods; and of course an imitation ship to celebrate that gold medal. You can custom label your own wine bottle, take wedding photos, grab a bite at the restaurant & stroll through the gardens while the endless staff of lovely young ladies in old fashioned green dresses with lace cuffs & collars flutter around. But you cannot taste more than 1 wine - an average medium-tier red blend. Not without a conversation with the director. We feared we were truly out of luck on our Chinese wine adventure.

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China. Arriving in Yinchuan, Ningxia...

China Winelands – A Day in the Winelands of China by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China.

Arriving in Yinchuan, Ningxia with a plan to visit wineries (which we had a loose idea of the location of) but no confirmed way of actually getting to them without paying the rather ridiculous amount quoted for a driver turned out to be no problem. A helpful tour guide, with a passable grip on English, at the train station offered to drive us to our hotel & was easily convinced to spend the next 3 days ferrying us around; starting with a local spot for a breakfast of hand-pulled noodles.

Next stop - Pernod Ricard's Helan Mountain. Kitted in our luminous orange safety vests, we toured the immaculately clean & well ordered production facility which is undergoing extensive expansion to include a visitor centre. One of the older wineries in Ningxia, the majority of the vines, which are spread across 3 sites in the area, were planted in 1997 with a strong focus on Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied by small pockets of Chardonnay & Merlot - typical Bordeaux varietals which seemed a little counter intuitive given the hot, dry conditions. Winemaker, Linda has been with the farm for 16 years with frequent exchanges to New Zealand & Australia. While Cab is the driving force at the winery based on consumer demand, she believes there is scope for experimentation - an idea strongly agreed with by Kiwi viticulturist, Mike Insley, whom we met with the next evening. Where Linda is most concerned with the balancing act of harvesting late enough to ensure phenolic ripeness (mostly the bit that makes your wine smell like lovely things) before the vines have to be buried for the winter (yup - we learned that's a thing in the area; more about that later), Mike is facing the challenge of a serious shortage of labour in the coming years thanks to repercussions of the one child policy & urbanisation. Never a dull moment, it seems.

But back to important matters - there was wine to be tasted. In the form of 3 barrel samples of the Helan Mountain Reserve range Chardonnay, Merlot & Cab. We were more than pleasantly surprised. The wines all had more time to spend in barrel before official bottling & release but each one was showing great potential. From the floral prettiness of the Chard to the already gentle profile of the Cab, we certainly were off to a great start in China!

Unfortunately, our luck seemed to have maxed out for the day. Our next stop would not deliver as we'd hoped. While extremely impressive, with architecture reflecting the vineyards in winter when they are little more than undulating ground with trellising posts poking out; not being able to taste any of the wines despite purchasing left much to be desired from our Chandon China experience.

Perhaps our luck would return tomorrow, we hoped over a late lunch of noodles.

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine…. next stop, China. The fact...

The China Planning Challenge by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine…. next stop, China.

The fact that wine is produced in China seemed a bit of a shock to most people outside of China. And, seemingly, most people we encountered in China, even those in one of the most concentrated wine producing regions. At time, based on the hassle to arrange visits to the wineries, I was almost convinced it came as a shock to the wineries themselves.

Don't let that put you off though - I will say that the wine was worth the hassle in the end. Most of it, at least.

As I've subtly hinted, planning a trip is not quite as simple as doing a quick Google search. China is massively vast. Ridiculously so. Meaning wine regions are also ridiculously far apart. Where to start? We grabbed the Asian Wine Review & plotted which area had the highest concentration of  award-winning wineries (will AWR become the Platter Guide of Asia?). This extremely scientific approach led us to the city of Yinchuan in the Ningxia province - a finger of desert sticking into Inner Mongolia alongside the Helan Mountain range. That part was easy. Finding contact details & planning an itinerary, however, was not. A 3-day itinerary eventually came to light through multiple emails; cold-calling wine writers; WeChats to winemakers, professors, tour guides; & endless map guesswork.

At last, with a few days to spare & no means of getting to & between the wineries, we were set to board the train & taste some wine - or so we thought...

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine.... next stop, Vietnam. With our...

Vino in Vietnam by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine.... next stop, Vietnam.

With our wine consumption mainly limited to 6 winery visits over 2 months, with a few bottles which had made their way from South Africa in between (notably a bottle of Luddite Shiraz 2009 consumed at an altitude of 3900m in Nepal); Vietnam was a veritable playground of wine. Actually, more of an overpriced theme park due mainly to tax & transport costs - but there was decent wine & we were very happy to spend a little more than the quality deserved for the pleasure.

While not actually producing any wine that we could track down, the wine drinking culture was much stronger than we had encountered thus far. With a bit of searching, it was possible to find wine shops, wine bars & restaurants with actual wine lists. Some were, of course, a little off the mark & most quite limited in the options by the glass, which is not uncommon in most countries.

Our most valuable finds in both Hanoi & Ho Chi Min were boutique wine stores  with fairly wide Bordeaux & Chilean wine selections with the odd bottle of South African here & there.  Staff here were enthusiastic & happy for you to have a seat & drink the wine you purchased, saving restaurant mark ups & corkage fees. They also often had interesting tastings going on in the evenings. Chilean wine being a familiar sight to most wine drinkers here due to it  apparently being the first country to target Vietnam  in terms of wine once trading opened up & Bordeaux because, well, Bordeaux.

With a burgeoning restaurant & bar scene combined with enthusiastic & aspirational wine lovers, there certainly are pockets of great excitement around wine with plenty of scope to grow - pity, though, about the prices.

Kind regards

Leigh-Ann Luckett

More photos can be found here at Google Photos

Leigh-Ann's blog can be found here Finding Wining

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine! An excellent plan, this time...

My Oh My – Myanmar Makes Wine by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine! An excellent plan, this time reporting from Myanmar.

China Winelands - Day 1

Arriving in Yinchuan, Ningxia with a plan to visit wineries (which we had a loose idea of the location of) but no confirmed way of actually getting to them without paying the rather ridiculous amount quoted for a driver turned out to be no problem. A helpful tour guide, with a passable grip on English, at the train station offered to drive us to our hotel & was easily convinced to spend the next 3 days ferrying us around; starting with a local spot for a breakfast of hand-pulled noodles.

Next stop - Pernod Ricard's Helan Mountain. Kitted in our luminous orange safety vests, we toured the immaculately clean & well ordered production facility which is undergoing extensive expansion to include a visitor centre. One of the older wineries in Ningxia, the majority of the vines, which are spread across 3 sites in the area, were planted in 1997 with a strong focus on Cabernet Sauvignon accompanied by small pockets of Chardonnay & Merlot - typical Bordeaux varietals which seemed a little counter intuitive given the hot, dry conditions. Winemaker, Linda has been with the farm for 16 years with frequent exchanges to New Zealand & Australia. While Cab is the driving force at the winery based on consumer demand, she believes there is scope for experimentation - an idea strongly agreed with by Kiwi viticulturist, Mike Insley, whom we met with the next evening. Where Linda is most concerned with the balancing act of harvesting late enough to ensure phenolic ripeness (mostly the bit that makes your wine smell like lovely things) before the vines have to be buried for the winter (yup - we learned that's a thing in the area; more about that later), Mike is facing the challenge of a serious shortage of labour in the coming years thanks to repercussions of the one child policy & urbanisation. Never a dull moment, it seems.

But back to important matters - there was wine to be tasted. In the form of 3 barrel samples of the Helan Mountain Reserve range Chardonnay, Merlot & Cab. We were more than pleasantly surprised. The wines all had more time to spend in barrel but each one was showing great potential. From the floral prettiness of the Chard to the already gentle profile of the Cab, we certainly were off to a great start in China.

Unfortunately, our luck seemed to have maxed out for the day. Our next stop would not deliver as we'd hoped. While extremely impressive, with architecture reflecting the vineyards in winter when they are little more than undulating ground with trellising posts poking out; not being able to taste any of the wines despite purchasing left much to be desired from our Chandon China experience.

Perhaps our luck would return tomorrow, we hoped over a late lunch of noodles.

Kind regards

Leigh-Ann Luckett

More images can be found here Google Photos

Leigh-Ann's blog can be found here Finding Wining

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, has decided to take some time out and travel the world in search of wine!...

India – where there’s a will, there’s wine by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, has decided to take some time out and travel the world in search of wine! Excellent plan so we start with a few of her experiences in India.

Better known for curry than Cabernet, India is certainly making moves to catch up with the Western wine world. Currently home to 77 wineries producing just over 17 million litres of wine per year with consumption growing at a rate of 30% year on year, wine is becoming all the more popular.

Being wine-loving South Africans, we decided a trip to the winelands had to be a part of our India trip. A few hours by car takes you from the madness of Mumbai to the "heart" of the winelands, Nasik, where around 80% of the country's wine is produced.

Following a few recommendations & being guided by time constraints thanks to religious dry days cutting our tasting time short, we visited 4 wineries in the area - 2 of the 3 biggest producers in the country, 1 of medium size & reputation & 1  new small boutique estate.

The country's only sloping vineyard can be found at Grover Zampa while the only Riesling in the country is available at Sula. York sounds particularly western but the name is made up of the initials of the Indian owner's children & Vallonne uses only locally made tanks to produce their small selection of fine wines.

From sugary Chenin Blanc driven by consumer demand to create the "sour sweet water" they expect, to experiments with barrel fermented whites; from Brut Tropical to small volumes catering to the niche of curious young wine appreciators; there's huge contrast between the wines & the philosophies of the wineries in the area. The brave young winemakers face many challenges in the vineyards & in the marketplace. Competing against hugely successful commercial brands means adjusting quality of wines; ensuring quality in the vineyard means close vineyard management including dropping 1 of the 2 crops grapes produced by the vines per year; & lack of cooling during transport & storage along the supply chain means risk of wines spooling before they've even reached the consumer. Fortunately, little things like alcohol content can be adjusted with a little extra "encouragement" to the authorities approving the labels.

At the end of the day, the wines are interesting with a huge scope in terms of quality. There are the quaffable crowd pleasers, there are some I'd prefer not to drink again & some I would happily take home & line up against some of my favourites from South Africa. If this is what how far the industry has come in the last 32 years (that's even younger than our controversial young grape, Pinotage), there's definite scope for some exciting things from the vineyards lying far beyond the traditional latitudes for producing wine, especially given the inherent optimism & resourcefulness of the Indian nation.

Kind regards

Leigh-Ann Luckett

More images can be found here Google Photos

Leigh-Ann's blog can be found here Finding Wining