Lee Yean YeanÂ has spent most of the past decade atÂ Grace VineyardÂ in rural Shanxi province in northern China, far from his native land of Malaysia, and currently works as production manager.Â I asked him a few questions about his experience at Grace, his favorite wines, and what fans of the operation can look forward to.
How did a guy from Malaysian end up making wine in China?
Every time people ask me about this, my reply is always “accidentally“! I learned about Grace from a closeÂ friendÂ inÂ Malaysia. I sent an email to [owner]Â JudyÂ [Chan] to join theÂ vintageÂ inÂ 2006Â and have been involved ever since. I never thought I would stay in Shanxi for so long!
What did you learn while working with Grace’s chief winemakerÂ Ken Murchison?
Patience,Â passionÂ and an appreciation forÂ AussieÂ ‘beer o’clock‘. Ken is my “guru“. I would say 60 to 70 percent of my wine-making and viticulture know-how is from him, the other 10 to 20 percent is from experience working vintage, and the remainder is what I am now in the process of discovering.
What wines do you most enjoy working on at Grace?
SonataÂ [a Cabernet Sauvignon-Marsellan-Cabernet Franc blend], theÂ ChardonnayÂ sparkling winesÂ and the wines that are made with our newer grape varieties,Â MarsellanÂ andÂ Aglianico, and look promising so far. We are also looking forward to some varieties we just planted last month, includingÂ Nebbiolo,Â SangioveseÂ andÂ Saperavi.
What’s the biggest challenge of making wine in Shanxi, given GraceÂ also have vineyards in Ningxia?
InÂ Shanxi, it isÂ summer rainÂ andÂ angry growersÂ — they want to pick and we want to wait! InÂ Ningxia, it is theÂ distanceÂ from Shanxi — and also angry growers.
What kind of surprises can we look for from Grace in the next few years?
I think some of the wines made from varieties likeÂ AglianicoÂ will be exciting. I am not sure if we will launch a single variety of this, but we will definitely bottle some as “winery reference“. Also, we have a special sparkling wine, made with red grapes, that has yet to undergo a secondary bottle ferment but is looking good.
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