Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

China's first micro-winery wins plaudits

China's first micro-winery wins plaudits

In a country where the wine industry is dominated by mass-production vineyards producing mediocre wine, the Silver Heights winery perched at 1,200m (about 4,000ft) is creating a buzz.
Located on the eastern slopes of Mount Helan in the northern Ningxia region, China's first garage wine, or micro-winery, has won applause from wine lovers and support from the trade.
"The first time we tasted Emma's wine, we knew we had to help her," said Alberto Fernandez, managing partner of Torres China, one of the three largest wine distributors on the mainland.
That was the day when his former training manager Emma Gao Yuan shyly presented a bottle of her first crush, a 2007 Cabernet blend.
A few sips later, Gao had found a champion for her one-hectare (2.5 acre), family-run vineyard, which has since doubled to two hectares.
Gao, 33, one of the few Chinese women to have studied at Bordeaux University's prestigious oenology department and - even rarer still - to work as a winemaker, entered the cellar by accident.
After studying business in Saint Petersburg, she travelled to Bordeaux as a translator for a government-sponsored group attending a crash course on winemaking. Intrigued, she caught the wine bug. Her father encouraged her to stay and learn how to make fine wine.
"My father was the manager of a 300-hectare state-owned vineyard and believed our region had the potential to produce good wine - he'd seen the studies," said Gao.
Back in China, Gao and her family began their family wine business while she worked for Torres. Her career changed definitively once her bosses tasted her wine.
"At the end of the day, she is great at making wine, but not marketing it - that's our job!" wrote Fernandez in an email to reporters.
His marketing team spent six months creating a name and designing elegant labels. Gao now produces two Cabernet blends, The Summit and Family Reserve, for a total production of 2,400 bottles. Allocations are rare. Sixty percent goes to the cellars of ritzy hotels like the Kempinski, Grand Hyatt, and Aman Resorts. The Beijing government buys 20 percent, and private clients looking for domestic fine wine, a scarce commodity, snap up the remaining 20 percent.
The success of Silver Heights is a small but important step for China, according to Fernandez.
"Chinese wine dominates 92 percent of the market. The potential for improvement is there," said Fernandez, adding that Torres China sees 30 percent growth annually with its distribution of over 400 family-owned premium wines.
As a family-run operation, Silver Heights fits in the Torres China portfolio. From caring for the vines to labelling, nearly everything is done by hand.
"My father takes care of the vineyards, my sister is the accountant and direct sales person, and my mother helps in the lab when I'm not there," said Gao, who also works as a consultant for a large winery in the Penglai wine region of eastern China and two micro-wineries in Ningxia.
Despite her success, Gao is determined to stay small and focus on quality.
"Big is difficult to control in terms of quality. We only started to make this wine in 2007. We have just won the market for this brand," said Gao. With the right investors, she'd like to buy another small vineyard. "We need to take time, and go slowly, slowly."
More than anything, she hopes to raise standards in China, producing wines that can hold their own against international favorites.
"I think we can make a fine wine similar in style to Australia or California, but never Bordeaux," predicts Gao.


Updated : 2021-05-09 01:41 GMT+08:00