Wang Fang returned to her home region of Ningxia from Germany about a dozen years ago and founded the winery Kanaan, now among China’s best-known operations. In this Q&8, she discusses her wine, including Riesling, the 2021 vintage, dogs versus horses, the German foods she misses most and her new and bigger wine project.
1 Kanaan is especially famous for Riesling. What makes Ningxia Riesling unique?
One reason Kanaan Riesling became popular is the grape is relatively rare in China. In a desert-like environment like Ningxia, it’s really difficult to plant Riesling compared to a grape like Chardonnay.
The challenges are to keep the fruit healthy–to protect it from disease–especially as we can get heavy rain in August just before harvest. And to watch our harvest time very carefully because the sugar levels can rapidly rise. The alcohol content is higher compared to some other parts the world.
But you also get surprises from my Riesling. The clay soil gives a clean aroma, with tropical fruits, some lemon, banana and yellow pear, and, after bottle aging, minerality. That’s really surprising. Also, Ningxia has many kinds of terroir–my soil is quite different from that in the Jin Shan [Gold Mountain] area, for example.
2 Your father Wang Fengyu is well-known in Ningxia’s wine industry. What role has he played at Kanaan?
My father is more or less a founder, a pioneer, of Ningxia’s fine wine industry. He guided me from Germany to China and helped me build up this winery. He is always watching and offering advice, always positive and encouraging, and says to not fear difficulties because all of them can be overcome.
3 You lived in Germany for a long time. What three foods do you miss most?
Oh, I love your third question. Cheese, lovely cheese. German black bread, Schwarzbrot. And Spargel [white asparagus soup]. And, of course, Riesling to drink.
4 Kanaan’s labels feature horses but visitors will also find many dogs at the winery. Why so many?
I think dogs have also become an image for Kanaan because not only me, but the whole staff, loves them. I lost two dogs two weeks ago, so I think we now have about 15 in total.
I got some dogs from friends but most were abandoned, given up by their owners. If someone says they cannot feed their dog anymore, I would also like to take it to my vineyard. And sometimes I find puppies or sick dogs when I am walking on our property, and I bring them back.
Our winery is like a kindergarten, like a big family of dogs and people.
5 This was a challenging vintage in Ningxia. How did things go at Kanaan?
This is a challenging vintage but a very good one, although I lost nearly 50 percent of my Chardonnay last winter [due to the weather] and had to buy some this year to make my semi-sweet white wine.
For the reds, it’s much better than last vintage. The color is a deep blood red and the body is rich but not too fat. Sometimes we get big fat wines and I’m not satisfied but this year is more concentrated and leaner. When I taste our top wine this year, I think, “Oh, this reminds me of Napa Valley.”
I also made 5,000 bottles of Syrah. You must taste the Syrah, it is really surprising.
6 Many people got to know Kanaan due to the Pretty Pony Cabernet-blend. What are your three favorite dishes with this wine?
Pretty Pony is our flagship wine. It perfectly matches the Cantonese dish, crispy pork belly. Also, beef and yangrou chuanr [mutton kebabs] go very well.
7 It seems more people are visiting Ningxia wineries these past two years. What was your experience?
Yes, we had more visitors come and taste the wine, not only trade people but also wine lovers. They love to talk with us and see the winery and vineyard firsthand. This is the best way to promote Ningxia and Ningxia wines.
The problem is my winery is a family operation. We don’t have someone to handle reception and welcome guests, so my husband and I always play tour guide.
If people make an appointment, we can organize a very good tour. But tourism is the way to go, we should welcome more guests to Ningxia.
8 What do you like to do in your free time?
If I had more free time, I would like to visit wonderful restaurants, to try really good wines from all over the world. This makes me happiest. I love traveling, I love good food, I love good wine.
I also want to learn more about digital media, marketing and sales, about platforms like Douyin, and about video. The world is changing quickly and if we want to reach younger consumers, to talk to young people, we need to learn more about their lifestyles.
Bonus. What can you tell us about your new winery, Mulando, which aims to be a bigger domestic brand than Kanaan?
I like to talk to people and see what they think is fine wine and what is going to become popular. Of course, we have to produce good quality wine, but we have to focus on our consumers and what they want and love to drink.
Mulando is a new type of winery, with the shareholders including e-commerce and education platform Vinehoo, and is totally different from Kanaan. Both produce good quality wine but the consumers each ones target and the channels we use to promote are quite different.
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