Nicolas Billot-Grima first made wine in China in 1987 and has consulted across the country ever since. In this Q&8, I ask him about the terroir, the grape varieties and the early results at Ningxia winery Stone & Moon, where he is now chief consultant. Plus, about his favorite Chinese foods and whether he imagined he’d end up doing projects in China for 35 years.
1 You’ve made wine all over China these past 35 years. What distinguishes Ningxia from the other regions where you worked?
Yes, you are right! I started in China in 1987 when I was 22 years old. I have been at Huadong winery in Shandong, then Loulan winery in Xinjiang, Yunnan Red winery in Yunnan and Domaine Franco-Chinois in Huailai County in Hebei.
Now I’m with Stone & Moon winery in Ningxia. For me, Ningxia is very special for developing grapes, with the best climate and with special soils that can lead to great wines!
2 Ningxia has sub-regions like Yinchuan, Qingtongxia and Hongsibu. How did Stone & Moon end up in Qingtongxia?
Before establishing Stone & Moon, we visited most of the wine-producing areas of Ningxia. To me, we have found the best place for the kind of first-class wine I want to make.
3 What makes it so special and how did you decide which grapes to plant?
We analyzed all of the soils and then chose grape varieties based on soil texture and structure, the sun’s orientation, the slope of the vineyards and, of course, our experience.
We have some slopes with clay soil for Merlot, some gravel soils for Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Marselan, and some sandy soils for Malbec and Chardonnay.
4 Speaking of Marselan, that’s a variety you helped bring to China, to Huailai County, 20 years ago. How do you expect your Ningxia Marselan to differ?
Our Ningxia Marselan will be totally different because of our soil and climate. We have more complexity and a very intense purple color.
The quality of our Marselan will improve year after year. I know in this unique area where Stone & Moon is located we will be able to make a great Marselan soon!
I am also happy to see that my intuition to introduce Marselan in China was good. The spicy aromas in Marselan are the perfect pairing to many Chinese foods and especially for Ningxia cuisine.
5 Stone & Moon’s first commercial vintage was 2021. What’s your appraisal so far of the wines?
I am very happy with the quality of the wine we made in 2021, even though it was a very hot year, with temperatures reaching 35 degrees during the summer. The grapes were top quality, with no disease. But we have to improve our vineyard management and we will be monitoring this and pursuing precision viticulture.
6 A lot of consideration went into establishing Stone & Moon’s vineyards. What were your biggest concerns?
For me, the most important goal is to make the best vineyard based on climate and soil. We imported equipment such as galvanized posts, wires and vineyard equipment from Europe, because they have 25-year quality warranties.
When you are establishing a vineyard and winery, you need to have perspective and direction. This is not a short-term business. You have to invest in the right equipment.
7 You’ve been visiting China for nearly four decades. What are your three favorite foods after all those years?
I love Cantonese food. Also, roast mutton from Ningxia, fresh seafood from Qingdao and Gongbao Jiding [a dish that includes chicken, peanuts and dried chili peppers].
8 Did you ever imagine, when you joined Huadong winery in Qingdao in 1987, that you’d still be making wine in China in 2022?
Yes, I imagined that, because I love Chinese cuisine. I know there are more than 10,000 Chinese dishes. I think have tasted over 2,000 of them and am still waiting to try 8,000 more — and to try them with my Chinese friends while sharing Stone & Moon wine.
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