Chris Sargeant of Australia is one of 48 candidates from 18 nations participating in the Ningxia Winemakers Challenge, a two-year program that officially started on September 20 and pairs each winemaker with a local winery. I asked about his experience so far.
You’ve been in Ningxia for about two weeks now. Have you tried the mutton? [Note: To those unfamiliar with the region, it is nearly impossible to go a few days let alone a few weeks without having mutton.]
Half the time I’m not all that sure what I’m eating! But, yes I have had the mutton and it was succulent and tender. I have been fortunate enough to be placed at the university winery where they grow their own produce and Mamma and Pappa Huang cook the most delicious food.
The winemakers sourced their grapes from a collective vineyard. How did your plot turn out?
My plot was quite clearly the best of the lot–that is a totally unbiased view, of course. I’ve just pressed it off, and even though it can be tough to judge a wine straight after ferment and going through malo [malolactic fermentation], I am very happy with the wine.
What has been the biggest challenge of making wine in Ningxia so far?
I have a wife and four children at home in Australia, the biggest challenge has been being away from them. The winemaking has been easy, the beautiful people here cannot do enough for me. Plus, I’m usually running around after the kids and making wine at home, so I have had so much extra time to make a winning wine.
In your application, you cited Shiraz–particularly from cool climates–as a favorite grape. What do see you as its prospects in Ningxia?
Yes, I love cool-climate Shiraz and I think it would do really well here. It has loose bunches, is quite disease-resistant and ripens a little bit earlier than Cabernet. If a winery were to plant it I think they would clean up–particularly if they paid an Australian winemaker who specializes in cool-climate Shiraz, and takes good photos, to consult!
Speaking of which, you deserve an award for best photos. How do you get such a friendly response!?
Everyone wants to smile. You just have to smile at them first!