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.