Ningxia Wine Challenge: The Expert Panel Selects Ten Candidates

By Jim Boyce

The Ningxia Wine Challenge will fund ten winemakers to visit the Ningxia region, join harvest and make one red wine and one white wine this fall. As noted a few weeks ago:

The Ningxia Wine Challenge is an opportunity for people who seek an adventure, enjoy cultural exchange and are interested in learning about and making wine in one of the most promising wine regions, Ningxia, in one of the most promising wine countries, China.

The participants will meet local winemakers and share ideas, meet their fellow visiting winemakers, and try wines from the region. They will no doubt also attract media attention, attend dinners with officials and winery managers, and have a chance to explore the cultural, historical and culinary offerings of Ningxia.

More than 50 winemakers of 15 nationalities have applied since the project was launched on July 13. On Sunday, we sent all complete applications — 46 in total — to a panel of five experts from five nations. The panelists were asked to consider two key  factors.

One was qualifications, as the candidates will likely face some wine-making challenges in Ningxia. These qualifications include adaptability, as there are also likely to be language and cultural challenges.

The other was diversity, as one goal of the project is to increase links between Ningxia and the wine world. Thus, the ten candidates would ideally hail from a variety of backgrounds.

The judges were then asked to make two lists. The first list was of their ten candidates for the Ningxia Wine Challenge. I asked them to pick applicants of at least six nationalities. The other list was of five alternate candidates, of any nationality.

The judges sent their lists to professor Ma Huiqin of China Agricultural University and Jim Boyce of Grape Wall, who met today to tabulate results. They then met Cao Kailong, director of Ningxia’s Bureau of Grape and Floriculture Industry, to present those results.

The competition was tight given that 26 of the 46 applicants were listed by at least two judges. To determine the candidates, any applicant included on a “ten candidates” list by three or more judges was automatically entered into the Ningxia Wine Challenge. The remaining spots were filled with applicants included on a “ten candidates” or an “alternates” list by three or more judges. In other words, every final candidate was listed by a majority of the judges.

Here are the ten finalists, in alphabetical order, with country of nationality in brackets:

BENOIT BEIGNER
(France)

Currently creating his own vineyard at Chateau Pecany, Beigner has paired wine education with stints at some of France’s top wineries.

JOSE HERNANDEZ GONZALEZ
(Spain)

Currently at Tinlins Winery in McLaren Vale, Australia. Gonzalez has had stops in France, the United States, South Africa and Spain.

PENNY JONES
(Australia)

Senior winemaker at Petaluma Winery, Adelaide Hills, Australia. Jones has also done a vintage in Oregon.

MANUEL ALEXANDER KOWALEWSKI
(Germany)

Besides working at a research center for viticulture and enology, Kowalewski has been involved in wine projects in Cape Verde, Portugal, Italy and Germany.

PATRICIA MIRANDA
(Chile, New Zealand)

Currently at Yealands Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand. Miranda is former winemaker at Isabel Estates and has done work in Austria, Germany, France, the United States, Australia and Chile.

ELENI PAPADAKIS
(United States)

Winemaker at Domaine Serene Winery in Oregon. Papadakis has worked at Bargetto Winery, Clos LaChance and Bonny Doon in California, and joined harvests in France, Chile and Germany.

LORIS TARTAGLIA
(Italy)

Most recently consultant winemaker for Cabernet de Los Andes in Argentina and Chateau Reifeng-Auzias in China, Tartaglia has had stops in France, the United States, Italy and South Africa.

DAVID TYNEY
(Australia)

Senior winemaker and manager at Marlborough Vintners in New Zealand, Tyney has worked at Giesen Wine Estate as well as at Constellation in California and Yalumba in Australia.

CARL VAN DER MERWE
(South Africa)

GM and winemaker at DeMorgenzon Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Van der Merwe previously worked at Quoin Rock Estate in Stellenbosch and in Washington State and Bordeaux.

BRIAN WILSON
(Australia)

Head of Wine Solutions Consultancy, Wilson has spent the past 15 years working with wineries in places such as Bulgaria, France and China, and has a background as a winemaker at a handful of operations in Australia and the United States.

The organizers of Ningxia Wine Challenge thank the panel — Mihalis Boutaris, Lilian Carter, Li Demei, Liz Thach and Mireia Torres — for taking the time to go through nearly 50 applications and make some tough decisions.

More on the Ningxia Wine Challenge is coming soon…

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