By Jim Boyce
Focus on the vineyards. That is the advice winemaker and consultant Michel Rolland had for China’s wine industry during a series of “China Wine Revolution” panels at the FCH China trade show in Shanghai. Rolland was keynote speaker for a panel that included professor Li Demei of Beijing University of Agriculture and winemaker Cui Yanzhi of Bodega Langes, with organizer Tommy Lam as moderator.
Rolland described China as taking a “very industrial approach” and said perhaps growth has come too fast and, in turn, not resulted in the best use of vineyards or grape varieties.
His clients include COFCO, the massive Chinese company that has Great Wall wines in its portfolio. In terms of his work in China, Rolland says, “We are mostly working in the vineyard.”
“We need to understand China, its soil, its climate. We can’t do the same as in Bordeaux or Chile,” he said. “[There is a] need to know where to plant, to know which grapes do well.”
Roland began by telling the audience that this year marked his fortieth vintage in Bordeaux. He then explained changes — the “revolution” angle — he has seen during those years. They include decreasing yields per vine, the advent of temperature control during fermentation and greater leeway on harvest — he cited one case where it always fell from September 13 and September 17 but can now vary by five weeks.
In China’s case, he said the biggest issues were in the vineyards, not in the wineries. “I’ve tried Chinese wine, some more than decent, some even good,” he said. In fact, he said wine-making is “almost easy” given the number of qualified people. But those people need good grapes.
“It’s important for [each] country to find the right way to produce wine,” said Rolland.