Australian Mike Gadd participated in the Ningxia Winemakers Challenge from 2015 to 2017 and is now a consultant with Shepherd winery. In this Q&8, he talks about long-distance advising in the COVID-19 era, the Ningxia foods that he misses most and the “must bring” item for incoming winemakers.
1 COVID-19 disrupted everyone’s plans. How have you handled it as a wine consultant stuck outside China?
It’s been tough for my work as Shepherd is brand new and everyone is still learning. I advise as much as I can by Internet but it’s like flying blind. I can’t smell or taste [at Shepherd] which is the most important tool I have. They’re having to learn fast.
2 What’s the one Ningxia dish you miss the most?
Anything cooked by [Shepherd owners] Shi Yue’s or Da Wei’s mothers. The home-cooked food at my winery is amazing. Apart from that, hand-pulled spicy La Mian [noodles] with tea egg and pickles.
3 You’ve worked on a few Ningxia vintages now. What’s your favorite?
2019 stands out because I started with a new winery as a blank-slate project. Helping establish something from scratch is the ultimate in challenges. It helps that they are lovely people.
4 We see lots more grape varieties now, from Viognier to Vidal to Marselan to Malbec. What grapes do you figure will end up working best?
The jury’s still out. Still a lot more work to do on viticulture. What we have at the moment are some interesting wines. What will become great, time will tell. I still want to see how Tempranillo will go.
5 What’s one thing that surprised you most about making wine in Ningxia?
The breakneck speed that they’re trying to establish the wine industry. It’s both amazing and worrying.
6 For foreign winemakers heading to Ningxia to work, what’s the most important item to bring?
Your own proper espresso coffee machine. Really. The coffee is soooo expensive, and often not great. I’ve put two machines in different wineries already. Can’t survive vintage without them.
7 What’s your favorite place to visit in Ningxia beyond the wineries?
Huai Yuan night market. I never get sick (pun!) of trying all the different food there. It’s awesome.
8 Finally, you’ve hosted some Ningxia winemakers in western Australia. How’d that go?
Great. Always a blast to host them. It’s eye-opening to see how different it is in a place like Margaret River. Winemaking is the same most everywhere in the world. It’s the viticulture that makes the difference. The tourism aspect also surprises them. That’s something Margaret River does very well. By the way, my house is always open to any winemaker who wants to visit.
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