Zhou Shuzhen | The secret ingredient in Ningxia’s wine industry

Zhou Shuzhen (center) at Kanaan winery in Ningxia

By Jim Boyce | When the wine world talks of Ningxia wine, the most likely names to pop up include Emma Gao at Silver Heights (银色高地), Zhang Jing at Helan Qing Xue (贺兰晴雪) and Wang “Crazy” Fang at Kanaan (迦南美地). They ooze personality, are fluent in English, and make good wines. But there are many others who have played critical roles and are little-known beyond non-Chinese language circles. Ranking high among them is winemaker Zhou Shuzhen (周淑珍).

Personal anecdote: In 2012, I helped organize a Ningxia tour for Tim Hinde of Yao Ming Winery in Napa (and formerly of Flowers and Kendall & Jackson), German Berra of Finca Flichman in Mendoza, Nic van Aarde of Warwick in Stellenbosch and long-time China consultant Nicolas Billot-Grima of Bordeaux.

One of our first stops was to Kanaan to see owner Wang Fang and Zhou Shuzhen. Kanaan was already on the China wine radar and has since solidified its status as one of the top wineries in the country.

Zhou supervising grape sorting at Kanaan

The catch is our tour later headed to Legacy Peak and met none other than Zhou again! Here she was again, making mouthwatering reds from one of Ningxia’s oldest vineyards. She also had her first Legacy Peaks Chardonnay in the tank, a wine we found delicious and that would ultimately become my favorite white from China.

Zhou at Legacy Peak in Ningxia

One last note: A few years later, I blind-tasted over 70 Ningxia wines and one of the bottles I ranked as favorites was from a winery called WENS. The winemaker at that time: Zhou Shuzhen.

I’m not alone, and certainly not the first, to be struck by Zhou’s wines. And her feel for Ningxia’s grapes should be no surprise: she has made wine for over 30 years, going back to her days at veterans Xi Xia King and Guangxia. It is only in recent years, thanks to the blossoming of Ningxia’s wine industry, that she became an independent consultant and spread her talent far and wide, including now at Jade (嘉地) and Helan Jinbao (贺兰珍堡).

So, next time you try something tasty from wineries like Kanaan and Legacy Peak, you can thank Zhou Shuzhen.

Zhou with Kanaan winery owner Wang Fang and candidates in the second Ningxia Winemakers Challenge

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