In the not-too-distant future, when you fake your way through a restaurant’s wine list, the wine you might choose could be a one produced entirely — from vine to bottle — within China. Leaving behind the days when Chinese wines like Great Wall and Dynasty defined the country’s reputation for wines that could turn Bacchus himself into leather-making teetotaler, boutique vineyards like Grace Vineyard (怡园酒庄 / 怡園酒莊) are producing wines that are beginning to earn international recognition.
While some are skeptical about China’s ability to produce quality wines, the biggest names in wine like Domaines Barons de Rothschild, Chateau Lafite, and Moët Hennessey are betting it can, investing millions and partnering with Chinese companies to produce wines domestically. Lafite’s first Chinese wine was deemed drinkable and described in relative terms as “not bad, not yet good, but not bad compared to everything drunk locally, which is bad”. Meanwhile, Grace Vineyard’s 2008 Chairman’s Reserve Cabernet blend was rated 85 (right in the middle of “barely above average to very good”) by Robert Parker’s website and held its own against French Bordeaux wines, much like California wines did 35 years ago at the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 that put California wines on the map. An appropriate current day comparison would be to New York State wines which have vastly improved in the past 30 years thanks to research, committed vintners, and economic support.
Grace Vineyard’s Judy Leissner (née Chan), entered the industry without any knowledge about wine save having tasted wine as a teenager while vacationing in France, but many Chinese are studying oenology and wine management, with a third of the students at the Bordeaux International Wine Institute and the Burgundy Business School hailing from China. In addition to learning about the wine industry and being hands-on vintners, Chinese investors have purchased vineyards in France, South America, the United States, and South Africa.
Some in France are concerned about the Chinese entry into one of their national craft and industry, but there is also the optimistic outlook that the Chinese students “will take along a respect for French culture, which they will later share with their co-workers and customers, in much the same way that the French winemaking know-how imported to California in the 1950s and ’60s helped initiate a new wave of interest in French cuisine and culture nationwide.”
Image: Modified from Bilobicles Bag under Creative Commons