Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Visit to Chateau Helan Qingxue and Daylong Organic Vineyards, China

Sept. 1, 2012 – After a buffet breakfast at the hotel we boarded the van for a day of visits to vineyards and wineries located near the foothills of Helan Mountains, about a thirty minute drive from Yinchuan. Unfortunately we woke up to drizzly rain that day, instead of the humid heat of the previous days. Therefore we spent much of the tour huddled under umbrellas and trying to avoid the mud in vineyards.

The first stop was the Decanter award winning Chateau Helan Qingxue where winemaker Zhang Jing greeted us very warmly. She is a small, bubbly Chinese lady full of energy and enthusiasm, and trained in France. Her motto is “making mellow wine and harvesting fun and joy.” She is the one who crafted the 2009 Jiabeilan Grand Reserve “Baby Feet” in a special 100% new French Oak barrel that was stamped with the footprint of her new child.

Zhang showed us through the winery which is owed and built by the local government. It is a nice looking building, and they are currently adding on a retail center where they will feature and sell all of the wines of Ningxia in addition to their own. It will also be used as a wine education and training center.

Zhang informed us they currently produce 40,000 – 50,000 bottles of wine per year (3300 – 4100 cases), and farm 15 hectares of vines which surround the winery. In addition, they also purchase grapes from local farmers. We were able to stop in the vineyard briefly and marveled at the interesting spacing of only 50 centimeters between vines, but very wide rows so the vines could be buried in the winter. The trellising was a fascinating verticle cane pruned system that trained the vine straight up on 3 wires with about 15 clusters per vine. Luigi, the viticulture expert from Italy, told me they probably should reduce to 10 to 12 clusters for higher quality.

Daylong Organic Vineyards

Next stop was an organic vineyard owned by the Ningxia Daylong Winery which is run by the Thailand Daysun Investment group. They have planted 100,000 mus of vines in the alluvial soil on the foothills of Helan Mountain.

This vineyard was in stellar condition with ripe cabernet sauvignon grapes which we tasted. The spacing was the same as the previous vineyard but the trellising was different in that the fruit clusters were just above the ground hanging from the first wire. They plan to sell the grapes now, but eventually build their own winery which will include an ecological and organic tourism base with a five-star hotel and golf course.

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