News on the Ningxia wine scene…

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Cheers, J. Boyce

Meet the Challenge winemakers: Jose Hernandez Gonzalez of Spain

“I have worked with 20 different grape varieties in six countries since I finished university and for me this has been a dream come true,” says Jose Hernandez Gonzalez of Spain, when asked about his biggest achievement. He also cites a gold medal won in the “Concours Général Agricole de Paris 2011” while he was working at Domaine René Ours in Cotes du Rhône in France.

“I’m always hungry for travel and to visit wine regions, to taste many different wines and to observe many wineries,” says Hernandez. “This has allowed me to work with the same varieties in different countries, observing their versatility in diverse conditions and discovering a wide range of possibilities in winemaking.”

With degrees in oenology from the University of Bordeaux in France and technical agricultural engineering from INEA-Universidad de Valladolid in Spain, Gonzalez has taken his education with him on those travels. Along with his experience at Domaine René Ours, he has been a winemaker at Naia Vineyard in Rueda in Spain, a wine-making assistant at Kleinood Estate in South Africa, and done everything from working in the cellar at Screaming Eagle in Napa Valley in the United States and Tinlins Winery in McLaren Vale in Australia to being an intern at Chateau Lynch-Bages in Bordeaux.

When asked what grape he would work with if he had to pick one, Hernandez cites Syrah. “She is very generous (as a grape), she is quite adaptable, and you can make very different kinds of wines, from easy drinking to more complex.”

Picks and pics: Foreign winemakers join Ningxia grape harvest, media follows

Ningxia Wine Challenge participants headed into the vineyard on Friday to try their hands at picking a grape variety closely tied to the region, Cabernet Gernischt, and then headed to the sorting room. They were far from alone as photographers were out in force — you can see them below, clicking away as Patricia Miranda and Penny Jones handle grapes.

Website Wine China was among those posting stories — see here — and posted this photo.

(Credit for first two photos to PM)

Meet the Challenge winemakers: Benoit Beigner of Chateau Pécany

“Making wines is an opportunity to reveal the best of a soil, a grape and a team”, says Benoit Beigner of Chateau Pécany, whose parents also hail from the wine business. Beigner says humility is also key “because every year, every place is different.”

Beigner is owner at Pécany, a winery he is developing in Pomport, France. He has had a wide range of positions in the wine industry. They range from making wine at nearby Chateau Le Chrisly to consulting at CEIOE, a center in Pauillac for studying oenology, to working as a broker at Bureau Gardère-Haramboure, also in Pauillac.

Beigner has also interned at Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Smith Haut Lafitte and Château Haut-Bailly, among others, and had a short stint as a salesperson at Magnum Wines in Shanghai in 2011. In fact, that was his second visit to China. He first came in 2010, when he spent about a month in the country and had a chance to live in Shanghai and Beijing.

He also has a Master of Enology at Victor Ségalen Bordeaux and master degrees in engineering and in international business.

Beigner cites the chance to work with French wine-makers Michel Rolland and Denis Dubourdieu as among the highlights of his wine career and says his aim is to expand his experience.

“To understand taste, and the wishes of customers, from your country or other countries, is really necessary to adapt my mind during wine-making,” he says.

He adds that if he could make wine from one grape, he would pick Cabernet Sauvigon.

“Cabernet Sauvignon wine is powerful, aromatic and full-bodied, and this variety is suitable for giving wines a long capacity for aging.”

Meet the Challenge winemakers: David Tyney of Cirro Wines

Good wines are made from good fruit, but great wines are made from good fruit, time and attention to detail,” says David Tyney of Cirro Wines in Marlborough, New Zealand, when asked about his philosophy of making wine.

Prior to being a wine-making consultant, Tyney was senior winemaker and manager of Marlborough Vintners. During that time, he managed more than 20 branded clients, 50 vintage staff at harvest, and worked with grapes such as Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Merlot and Gruner Veltliner. In addition to managing wine-making teams, Tyney has had experience with lab staff, budgeting, supplier and client relationships, and implementing new winery systems

“From a wine business perspective, systems and processes are the most important of any winery operation,” he says.

Tyney also worked at Giesen Wine Estate in Blenheim, New Zealand, at Constellation Winery in Monterey, California, and at Yalumba Wine Company in Barossa Valley, South Australia.

Among his achievements, he cites an experience during an extremely wet and high disease-prone harvest. Given the wine team could not stop the rain, it took alternative measures.

“One included using a helicopter to hover in front of the harvester to blow off unwanted moisture from the rain,” he says. The result: to deliver fruit with more sugar concentration.

In terms of his motivation for coming to Ningxia, Tyney notes that he is no stranger to China. “My parents have lived in Shanghai and Beijing for the several years. I have visited China three times recently and find the culture, landscape and people fascinating,” he says.

“I would like to visit China more often and would embrace any opportunity to share my wine-making experiences with Chinese consumers and professionals,” he explains. “I believe that the Chinese wine industry is rapidly growing and I would like to be part of this.”

New Zealand’s Wine Press, Marlborough Express covers Ningxia Wine Challenge

The mainstream and trade media in New Zealand have covered a pair of locally based winemakers who are now in China for the Ningxia Wine Challenge.

Wine Press, official magazine of Wine Marlborough, has published a story about David Tyney, currently at Cirro Wines and previously at Marlborough Vintners, and Patricia Miranda of Yealands Estate.

Describing the trip to China as “a chance of a lifetime” and Ningxia as having “a reputation for stunning reds”, writer Tessa Nicholson notes that Tyney and Miranda will make both a red wine and a white wine during the stay. She quotes Miranda as saying:

I have never been to China, but I have been aware that they are producing some very interesting wines. And the wine industry is growing exponentially there. I was interested in that before I applied for the competition.

And Tyney as saying:

I was interested in Ningxia Wine Challenge for a number of reasons. Firstly, my parents have lived in China for the past three years and I have visited them regularly. It [China] gets better and more interesting every time I go back. On my last trip I was fortunate enough to consult to a group of officials in Yunnan Province on a recently established vineyard for ice wine production. This was an amazing experience to see vines planted in a small village which is thousands of years old and at an altitude you would not believe.”

Meanwhile, Deborah Walton-Derry and Peter Morice of Marlborough Express have covered Miranda’s journey to Ningxia. In an story titled, “Yealands winemaker secures trip to China”, they write:

Wine has the ability to not only bring people together, but to bring whole cultures together, too. The Ningxia Wine Challenge is a perfect case in point, with one of Marlborough’s winemakers, Patricia Miranda-Taylor, currently in China and experiencing harvest and winemaking in the Ningxia region.

They note that she moved to Yealands Estate in March of 2012 after working at Isabel Estate and has also done vintages in countries such as Germany and France. That international resume will soon include a stint in China:

She is staying in Yinchuan, the capital of the Ningxia region. Before leaving she was told that due to cool weather and rain the harvest will be later than expected. Once the harvest is under way the white varieties will come in first — around 21 September, followed by the red from 5 October. Fermentation should be finished about three weeks after the harvest.

She is both nervous and excited about the trip, which is something of a working holiday that also includes introductions to the other nine successful international winemakers, a seminar, dinners, wine tastings and visits to wineries.

For the full story, see here. And expect more on local and international coverage of the Ningxia Wine Challenge.

Getting tanked in Ningxia: Challenge winemakers do an equipment check

Bring on the grapes!

The Ningxia Wine Challenge participants headed into wine country on Sunday afternoon to get a look at some of the equipment they will use. The plan is to give the winemakers the same equipment — for example, the fermentation tanks are of an identical size — and the organizers have quickly put this together over the past month at newly established vineyard and winery Da De, which roughly translates to “morality is the highest virtue” — trust me, it is more elegant in Chinese. Call it Ningxia’s version of “build it and they will come”.

The paint is barely dry at Da De.

The Challenge winemakers get tanked.

(From left) Benoit Beigner, Eleni Papadakis, David Tyney and José Hernández González check out the equipment.

Ningxia Wine Challenge dinner: Roast mutton, wolfberries and chicken heads

The Ningxia Wine Challenge participants gathered at Lanny Resort outside Yinchuan on Sunday night for dinner with Cao Kailong, director of the Bureau of Grape and Floriculture Industries and initiator of the challenge. Pictured above, from bottom right: translator HuangCarl van der Merwe (South Africa), Patricia Miranda (Chile and New Zealand), Eleni Papadakis (United States), director Cao KailongMa Huiqin (professor at China Agricultural University), Penny Jones (Australia), José Hernández González (Spain), David Tyney (Australia), Benoit Beigner (France) and several media members.

The winemakers gorged on everything from roast mutton, oxtail and fish to baked goods and salads garnished with one of Ningxia’s most famous products, wolfberries. Pictured below: Gonzalez, Jones, Ma and Wang Zhenping, professor at Ningxia University.

Also of note: David Tyney, with an assist from Carl van der Merwe and to the amusement of Jose Gonzalez (and everyone else), ate the chicken’s head. If such daring is transferred to the vineyard and winery, Tyney’s prospects in the challenge look very good.

Ready, set, ‘jia you’: Ningxia Wine Challenge starts in China

Seven winemakers from five continents gathered in Yinchuan over the weekend for the start of the Ningxia Wine Challenge. The two-year challenge will see them not only use local grapes to make red wine and white wine that will ultimately be judged by 2014, but also exchange ideas with local winemakers and learn about Ningxia and its business practice and culture. The seven winemakers (in alphabetical order):

  • Benoit Beigner (France)
  • José Hernández González (Spain)
  • Penny Jones (Australia)
  • Patricia Miranda (Chile and New Zealand)
  • Eleni Papadakis (United States)
  • David Tyney (Australia)
  • Carl van der Merwe (South Africa)

Beigner and Gonzalez arrived in late August and have been busy doing everything from visiting vineyards to riding camels — though they have yet to do both at the same time. Three other winemakers accepted to the challenge were unable to attend due to personal or logistical reasons, although there are hopes of involving them at a future stage.

Note: “Jia you!” literally translates as “add oil” and is used as encouragement by sports fans for their teams, teachers for their students, and friends for each other. It broadly means “Do your best!” or, more simply “Go!

The first three Ningxia Wine Challengers to arrive pose with Mr Yuen of Yuen Shi Winery and Resort. From left: Jose Gonzalez, Mr Yuen, Carl van der Merwe and Benoit Beigner.

Meet the challenge winemakers: Carl van der Merwe from Demorgenzon Estate

“My ultimate philosophy is to intervene as little as possible and allow the inherent quality of the origin to be expressed whilst always being aware of global quality levels and styles and what wines I will be competing against in various price levels,” states Carl van der Merwe, when asked about his approach to making wine.

Van der Merwe has a decade of wine-making experience in Stellenbosch, South Africa, first at Quoin Rock Estate and now at Demorgenzon Estate, where he is also general manager, which means involvement in budgets, product design, marketing, and vineyard management, among other areas.

With a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural, Oenology and Business Management from University of Stellenbosch in hand, van der Merwe had stints at Winecorp and international harvest experience at Chateau Pichon Longueville and Chateau Chasse Spleen in Bordeaux and at Bookwalter Winery in Washington State. He has toured wine regions that range from Rust in Austria to the Loire Valley in France to Ribera del Duero in Spain to British Columbia and Ontario in Canada.

When asked what grape he would work with, if he could only pick one, van der Merwe said that he adores Pinot Noir and Riesling but he would choose Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Across a selection of different countries, Cabernet Sauvignon is capable of producing wines of great depth and complexity with a freshness and ability to mature,” he says. “I love the structure of Cabernet and am fascinated by its reaction to soil moisture levels and the resultant structure in the wine.”