By Jim Boyce | Justin Corrans of South African led the gold medal haul during last night’s finale of the Ningxia Winemakers Challenge. The two-year project featured 48 winemakers from 17 countries who traveled to Ningxia for harvest in 2015: each paired with a local winery, received three hectares of grapes and made a wine.
I helped organize a ten-member panel, led by China Agricultural University professor Ma Huiqin and Master of Wine Andrew Caillard, that judged the 48 wines yesterday in Beijing (see judge biographies below).
The panel awarded gold medals to Australian Tony Kalleske (Kalleske Wines) who paired with Ningxia winery Legacy Peak, American Brent Trela (Alert Aesthetics) who paired with Miqin, and to winemaking consultants Slavina Stefanova from Sweden and Sarah Williams from the UK, who paired with Yunmo and Hezun respectively.
Justin Corrans, CEO at Mountain Ridge, who also worked at Separator and wine producer The Bergkelder, was paired with Lanxuan and emerged as the judges’ overall pick. Each gold medalist won RMB100,000 / USD15,000.
The judges also awarded ten silver medals worth RMB20,000 / USD3,000 each. The winners included Mariana Paez (Argentina) at Bacchus, Maria Tapia (Chile) at Xin Niu, Ruben Rodriguez (Spain) at Pushang, Matthew van der Spuy (UK) at Luoshan and Nova Cadamatre (US) at Lansai. Australians Paul Gobell at Pernod Ricard, Kelly Pearson at Lan Shan and Steve Simpson at Haixiang Yuan and New Zealanders Jennifer Bound at Yuan Ge and Peter Mackey at Ningjue rounded out the silvers.
While all of the winemakers used Cabernet grapes from an 18-year-old winery, their paths were quite different. Partner wineries ranged in expertise from seasoned veterans to absolute newcomers, in size from small and family owned to huge and state-owned; and in equipment from the newest to needing improvisation.
The NWC was organized by the International Federation of Vine and Wine of Helan Mountain’s East Foothill, led by Hao Linhai, with support from the Bureau of Grape Industry Development, led by Cao Kailong. Ningxia wines have won over 150 medals in international contests, received kudos from critics like Jancis Robinson and Karen MacNeil, and attracted a steady flow of investors, winemakers, academics and writers. The 48 winemakers have helped fill knowledge gaps in fast-developing Ningxia and brought much-needed diversity to a region where many have a fixation with Bordeaux.
Ningxia has 187 registered wineries and about 40,000 hectares of wine grapes, about a third of the area cultivated in Bordeaux and double that of Napa Valley. Ningxia has also been undertaking other initiatives, including wine trade shows, festivals and conferences, joining the OIV, investing in tourism infrastructure, and promoting equipment sharing by small operations. Ningxia held a smaller winemakers challenge, with seven candidates, from 2012 to 2014.
Over 140 winemakers applied for NWC during an online campaign in the summer of 2015. Six judges with China wine experience chose the finalists: German Berra (Argentina) of winery Finca Flichman; Nicolas Billot-Grima (France) of consultancy F2CV; Andrew Caillard (Australia), associate producer of China wine documentary Red Obsession; Judy Chan (Hong Kong), CEO Grace Vineyard in Shanxi; Amy Lee (U.S.), a winemaker with 20 years of China sales experience; and Tersina Shieh (Hong Kong), a marketer turned winemaker who has joined harvests in Ningxia.
The 48 NWC candidates: Pablo Laborde, Argentina | Mariana Páez, Argentina | Juan Pina, Argentina | Cesar Gastón Sepúlveda, Argentina | Mike Gadd, Australia | Paul Gobell, Australia | Tony Kallaske, Australia | Mathew Kirby, Australia | Joanna Marsh, Australia | Stephen McEwen, Australia | Kelly Pearson, Australia | Chris Sargeant, Australia | Mathias Regner, Austria | Alexander Velianov, Bulgaria | Jose Hernández, Chile | Jacqueline Lizama, Chile | Maria Tapia, Chile | Pierre Viala, France | Priyanka Kulkarni, India | Parikshit Teldhune, India | Denise Cosentino, Italy | Alessio Fortunato, Italy | Gianpaolo Paglia, Italy | Mauricio Ruiz Cantu, Mexico | Leonardo Ricardez, Mexico | Vadim Burunsus, Moldova | Peter Bristow, New Zealand | Jennifer Bound, New Zealand | Glenn James, New Zealand / Australia | Peter Mackey, New Zealand | Andrew Powley, New Zealand | Steve Simpson, New Zealand | Spring Timlin, New Zealand | Joel Santos, Portugal | Justin Corrans, South Africa | Alwyn Liebenberg, South Africa | Carsten Migliarina, South Africa | Elena Alejos, Spain | Ana Pecero, Spain | Ruben Rodriguez, Spain / Australia | Slavina Stefanova, Sweden | Stuart Rusted, UK | Matthew van der Spuy, UK | Sarah Williams, UK | Nova Cadamatre, United States | Chris Chang, United States | Brian Cheeseborough, United States | Brent Trela, United States
The ten NWC judges:
Andrew Caillard (co-chair): consultant at large for Pinnacle Drinks in Australia. Master of Wine, founder of Langton’s wine auction house, associate producer of China wine documentary Red Obsession and co-founder of Caillard Wine. Co-chairs Wine 100 in Shanghai and is a judge in the Japan Wine Challenge and numerous other contests.
Monica Christmann: president of the Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV). Department head for Oenology and Wine Technology at Geisenheim Research Institute, holder of graduate degrees in oenology and agricultural science, and judge at Grands Concours du Monde, the Wine Innovation Awards and global OIV panels.
Alberto Fernandez: managing partner of Torres China and 17-year China wine sector veteran. Helped establish fine Chinese wine as distributor of Silver Heights (Ningxia) since first vintage in 2007 and Grace Vineyard (Shanxi) from 2004 to 2016. Sought-after speaker for China wine conferences.
Marcus Ford: 18-year China wine sector veteran, as former restaurant manager of M on the Bund, GM of retailer Pudao Wines and head of wine at Langton’s East Asia. Judge for Decanter Asia Wine Awards, Wine 100 and both the 2012 and 2014 Ningxia Wine Challenges.
Frank Hao: Manager and sommelier at Italian restaurant Tavola. Previously at Sureno (Opposite House) and Opera Bombana. Certification from Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET and Asia Wine Institute. Finalist in the inaugural National Sommelier Competition in 2009.
Stephen Li: Founder of Stephen Wine. WSET-certified wine educator with partners in a half-dozen cities throughout China. Frequent judge, including for China Wine Challenge, Wines of Chile and Wine in China. Guest speaker at this year’s MUST conference.
Huiqin Ma China Agricultural University professor and wine marketing expert. Administers programs with universities in Australia, Chile, Israel and the U.S. Judge for Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Competition, La Revue du Vin de France (China) and Wine 100. Chair of Ningxia Wine Challenges in 2012 and 2014.
Jörg Philipp: Founder of German consultancy Degustar and wine school Vinoria in Germany in 2001. Based in China since 2011 and Asia rep for the PAR wine scoring system. Visited 60-plus Ningxia wineries in 2016. Judged in PAR International Organic Wine Awards and PIWI International Awards, among other contests.
Hans Qu: Managing director at Cuatro Sol Wine & Culture. Wine educator, translator, sommelier and winner of the first China National Sommelier Competition in 2009. Certification from International Sommelier Guild. Judge for Wines of Chile, Wines of Argentina, 2012 Ningxia Winemakes Challenge and RvF China.
Terry Xu: Co-founder of wine consultancy Aroma Republic, influential blogger and famous for reaching mass market consumers. WSET-certified educator with qualifiations from CIVB (Bordeaux), Burgundy (BIVB) and A+ Australian Wine, among other producing regions / nations.
I’ll post more details on the contest, and more photos, soon!