Seize the Clay: Made-in-Ningxia Amphoras Now Available

The past dozen years saw Ningxia’s wines go from being largely unknown to amassing a mountain of contest medals and high scores.

And the region’s wine quality is not the only thing growing.

We also see a rise in supporting businesses, including a centralized nursery to provide rootstock, local producers of equipment like fermentation and storage tanks, and label design and printing operations.

One of the newest businesses is Mei Ai Lin Porcelain Studio, which displays several ranges of clay vessels for aging wine. These amphoras range from 300 liters to 1000 liters. And while components are sourced from around China, Ningxia clay is included in the vessel bodies themselves, I’m told.

I have seen amphoras slowly moving from exception to rule in China wineries during the past few years. That makes this project well-timed as more wineries experiment with clay vessels, which have long been known in relation to traditional Chinese alcohols, such as baijiu.

Mei Ai Lin Porcelain Technology began work in May of 2020 on creating a clay container to help express ‘Chinese terroir.’ The research included filling amphora models with Cabernet Sauvignon for nine months to check the effects on phenols and tannins.

The project got a thumbs up in December from Ningxia University and Beijing Agricultural University, with the vessels passing final review and being approved for sale in March.

That same month, Mei Ai Lin Pottery Studio was established, with displays of several ranges of containers.

The amphoras are produced by sibling company Ningxia Magic Bird, which was formally established last fall.

The vessels are said to be free of heavy metals and to meet standards for lead and cadmium in the United States and Europe as well as to fulfill Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) guidelines.

And to offer numerous advantages, from a stable oxygen environment for the wine to a more prominent expression of the fruit to smoother tannins.

In any case, as noted, some wineries are already using such vessels, including those sourced from places like Yunnan, and this now gives them another option as they strive to continue boosting Ningxia’s wine quality.

Thanks to winemaker Deng Zhongxiang, who consults for more than a half-dozen wineries in Ningxia, for the photos above

The one below is mine: it shows him with some clay vessels as Domaine Charme in 2021.

By the way, my guess is some of these amphora will used to create skin-contact / orange wines. If you are interested in this style, check my recent newsletter on the rise of craft wine in China, including a detailed look at the recent orange wine festival in Beijing. The link is here. And you can sign up for my newsletter here.)

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