China-Australia exchange: Winemakers Michael Fragos, Zhang Jing & Dean Hewitson

chapel hill michael fragos at helan qing xue ningxia
Michael Fragos with the team at Helan Qing Xue (

By Jim Boyce

Wine ties between China and Australia have long been tightening: Australia has ranked as the number two source of imported bottled wine in China for years, Chinese investors are buying a growing number of Australia wineries, Chinese students head to Australia to study wine-making and viticulture, Australian winemakers and consultants head to China to learn and work, etc. It’s like a panda and a koala have gone from staring at each other from across the forest to moving within the range of a hug. Or something.

Anyway, one exchange between the two saw Michael Fragos of Chapel Hill in McLaren Vale visit Helan Qing Xue in the Ningxia region last year. Fragos, who studied Mandarin for five years during high school but noted he was a little rusty, said the trip came about after he met Li Demei, a consultant for Helan Qing Xue, on a Wine Australia tour. He wrote on the Chapel Hill website:

In late September, after visiting our key Chinese wine markets in Shanghai and Beijing, I headed north/ west to remote Ningxia. Harvest had already commenced and it was proving to be a challenging harvest as they had an unusually wet summer/ spring (average annual rainfall is only 250 mm). Over the five days I spent time in both the vineyards and winery and I was extremely impressed with the passion and technical ability of the winemakers. I was able to share our experiences, particularly during the nineties when Australia was experiencing a period of dizzy growth. The irony with any “young” winemaking country is that the most telling advance in wine quality is when you are able to trust your vineyards / grapes and from that day onwards you gain the confidence to do less in the winery.

Helan Qing Xue’s wine maker Zhang Jing completed the exchange last month during an Australian tour that included Chapel Hill, Hewitson and Yering Station.

Dean Hewitson, during a visit to Beijing last month, said Zhang would be at his winery for two weeks “to help with the harvest. She’ll do some pumping over but we also want to get her out in the vineyards to taste the grapes to see when they are flavor ripe as opposed to sugar ripe or tannin ripe.”

More details came from Beijing-based importer and distributor The Wine Republic, which represents all of the wineries named:

“Just like my travels through the Old World when I was learning my own craft, this experience of different region and hemisphere will be an invaluable addition to Jing’s knowledge-base. I’m thrilled to be able to share my experiences and the sheer power of this vintage with her,” [said Hewiston]….

Jing will witness first-hand the final stages of the 160-year-old Old Garden ripening. The oldest Mourvèdre vines in the world; Old Garden is also one of the last vineyards in the entire region to be hand-picked. “Experiencing the different ripening patterns of century-old, pre-phylloxera vineyards that are dry grown and un-irrigated is entirely different to what she would experience at home,” comments Hewitson.

I hope to have more on the exchange when Zhang returns to China.

Zhang Jing and Pierre Luigi at Hewiston (pic: Hewiston)
Winemakers Fragos and Liang at Helan Qing Xue (
Winemakers Fragos and Liang in Ningxia (pic:

Australia has ranked as the number two source of imported bottle wine in China for years,

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