By Jim Boyce
While there is no shortage of chatter about how red dominates white when it comes to still wine in China, we rarely hear a mention of bubbly. But if all goes to plan, we are set for the fizziest year yet in terms of quality local sparkling wines.
The big story for many observers: the high-profile Chandon project in the Ningxia region that is slated to release its first wines in 2014. But also of much interest should be a pair of bubblies that Grace Vineyard in Shanxi province plans to launch at VinExpo in Hong Kong.
This project has been years in the making, says Grace CEO Judy Leissner.
“I started to really like Champagne and sparkling wine in 2006,” she says. ” Ever since then, I kept thinking maybe we could make a bit at the winery.”
There were also family considerations.
“My little one kept asking me when she would have her own label, like the one I made for [her sister] Anastasya,” she says, referring to the Tasya series of wine.
Leisnner expects production to reach a maximum of 20,000 bottles per year. The initial vintage, a 2009 Chardonnay, is a modest 3000 bottles.
“It almost feels like we can consume all of it at the winery or at Grace Vineyard’s events,” she says.
Leisnner says she plans to launch at VinExpo in order to get feedback, “to know how people respond to a made-in-China sparkling wine.”
“You know we are rather conservative when it comes to pricing,” she explains. “I want to get a feel for what people think of the two wines — one is slightly sweeter — and then decide what to do. I also want my team to taste ours together with sparkling wines from other producers.”
Grace winemaker Lee Yean Yean has said one of the key challenges is equipment when working with such small amounts of sparkling wine.
Also of note, here is the vintage report from 2009 by chief winemaker and viticulturalist Ken Murchison:
“We always expect some summer rain, but it did not arrive until mid September. Prior to this, we were able to pick Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc in ideal conditions – both made excellent wines. Of special interest from 2009 (and a lot of excitement in the winery), will be our first sparkling wine, a Blanc de Blanc in the Methode Champenois. This is a traditionally made “Champagne” style wine – fermented and aged in the bottle.”
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