Grechetto in the garage: Niche China producers

Mention that Jiangyu makes some of China’s quirkiest wine and the ears of those in the trade perk up .

That’s because the pronunciation of this garage winery in Qiushan Valley in Shandong sounds close to that of the country’s largest producer, Changyu, the latter associated with mass market products rather than niche ones. And is even based in the same province, Shandong.

But Jiangyu is a tiny operation, encompassing just two rooms: one with all of the production equipment and–separated by a glass wall–one serving as a cellar. Owner Jiangyu–yes, the winery is named after him–says the facilities were whipped together in just two months.

So, what’s quirky about Jiangyu? Here are three examples:

  • Jiangyu is the only China producer of Grechetto I know, with access to 7 mu / half a hectare of these grapes, planted near the valley. (He translated the grape name to “ge tu”, meaning “a journey accompanied by song.”)
  • Jiangyu is experimenting with barrels made that use local oak, sourced from near the border with North Korea.
  • Jiangyu is sourcing grapes from over 2000 meters high from over 2000 km away in Shangri-la in Yunnan province. He has just over one hectare of grapes there, split between Cabernet Sauvignon at 2300 meters and Chardonnay at 2600 meters, with a former employee of LVMH’s Ao Yun overseeing the fruit. And he says that temperature-controlled shipping to get those grapes to Shandong is pricy.

Owner Jiangyu has only been working at the wine game five years but has quickly made a name for himself. And will be presenting his wines in Italy this week as part of an annual ‘Road to VinItaly’ tasting hosted by Wine to Asia.

I also visited his winery last weekend and he pulled samples from about a dozen barrels: it was fun to see the uniqueness and expressiveness of each.

An elegant pure Chardonnay with refreshing crispness and chrysanthemum aromas. A Grechetto with a bigger smoother body and notes of everything from chamomile tea to orchard fruit — think pears — to a slight creaminess. And a Petit Manseng with sweet-and-sour character I could see pairing with many Chinese dishes.

A highlight was that Yunnan Cabernet Sauvignon: from the first whiff I knew it was from distant places, with its mild but vibrant violets and pure wild dark berry.

What a surprise to be drinking these wines, using grapes from near and far, in a tiny nondescript building with a winemaker still yet to each a half-dozen years under his belt. I happily tasted through those wines, nearly one year after meeting Jiangyu last May at Wine to Asia Shenzhen, and thought how those tasters in Italy are going to have a real treat this week.

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