Yesterday, I emailed Grace Vineyard President Judy Leissner with five quick queries and the answers were back faster than it takes for a bottle of wine to breath. I’ve been a Grace fan since trying the Cabernet Sauvignon at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Beijing last fall. It fared well in my first blind tasting of Chinese wine – we’ll soon see how well it does against Dragon Seal, Huadong and others.
BB: I understand demand for Grace wines is growing faster than what the vineyard can produce, so grapes are being brought in from outside. If so, how does Grace balance quantity and quality?
JL: First of all, the percentage of grapes purchased from nearby vineyards is quite small. Secondly, the vineyards are relatively close to our existing premise. As a result, we can monitor the development and check the vineyards prior to harvest. Finally, the grapes are selected and only those that meet our standard would be purchased.
BB: Why did Grace locate in Shanxi?
JL: We believe that only places above the Yellow River are suitable for growing grapes. The east coast is far too humid and, as a result, the sugar [in the grapes] is pretty low. The far west is high in sugar, but low in acidity. So, it’s logical deduction that Ningxi, Shanx and Shaanxi would be the best provinces. Of course, we also hired French professor D. Boubals, the teacher of Miguel Torres, to come to China, and he picked Shanxi over the other provinces.
BB: What is your vision for where Grace should be in 20 years?
JL: I see Grace continuing to be a relatively small operation, but we will have several small wineries across China. Each will have its own unique style and grow different varieties. I also hope we can find a place to grow Pinot Noir in China (ha ha… personal preference). Lastly, I hope we are able to find the most suitable variety for China, similar to Shiraz for Australia, Malbec for Argentina, and so on.
BB: How do I know a wine is truly made with 100-percent Chinese wine, i.e. are there such rules re labeling and, if so, are they enforced?
JL: Ha ha, please ask our government.
BB: What are your three favorite Grace wines?
JL: I think my taste has evolved over time. For example, I used to like our entry-level Chardonnay very much, but now, I prefer our Tasya’s Reserve Chardonnay. Of course, it’s also affected by the food and the company. Right now, I like our premium unfiltered Pinot Noir (ok, it’s not the best, but I enjoy it), our Chenic Blanc (very acidic and fresh, it goes very well with Cantonese food) and finally our Deep Blue (which is a similar but younger blend of Chairman’s Reserve). We haven’t launched Deep Blue yet, but have been drinking it constantly. That’s the nice thing about having a winery, isn’t it?
Note: Grace wines are available in Beijing from Torres.
(Originally posted on April 11, 2007, on www.beijingboyce.com)