Sunday, December 29, 2013

Yuange Winery – Modern Chinese Architecture With Ice-Covered Pond and Geese, Ningxia

(Dec. 2013) - The first winery we visited was Yaunge, which is owned by a woman with a female winemaker. (NOTE: Many Chinese women seem to be involved in the wine business here, and have the roles of owner, general manager, or winemaker). The architecture is modern Chinese with large brick walls made of native stones and artwork that includes beautiful statues carved from native wood.

The winery is is situated on the edge of a pond, which was covered with ice when we visited. A curved bridge allows you to walk across the pond to the vineyards, which were buried in the sandy earth due to the cold winter weather. As I crossed the bridge, I was delighted to see a pen holding white geese complete with a small house so the geese could stay warm.

The tall mass of the impressive Helan Mountain Range rises up beyond the vineyards, and the sky is a pale blue with a temperature hovering around 12 F on this December afternoon. We pass a pile of grape vine cuttings, and I’m told that the vines are pruned almost to the ground before they are buried. Approximately 50% of the vine burying operation is now mechanized, which saves much time and lowers labor costs.

Back in the winery, all of the equipment is new with shiny stainless steel tanks, 100% French oak barrels, and small crusher destemmer equipment and basket presses. We learn they have 20 hectares (49 acres) of red grapes and 7 hectares (17 acres) of white with an average production of 6 tons per hectare (approximately 3 tons per acre). They produce around 3000 cases per year.

I am impressed with the labeling and logo of the winery, which is a striking gold color with a distinctive circle in a spiral pattern (see photo). It reminds me of a modified yin-yang symbol.

We taste the 2012 Chateau Yuange Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a medium ruby purple color with a nose of cassis and herbs. On the palate it has a smoky note with hints of minerality and rather astringent tannins. I am surprised by the higher alcohol, at around 14.5%, as most Chinese wines usually maintain a 12.5 to 13% alcohol level. The medium length finish is one of anise and leather. It has only received 6 months barrel aging, and in my opinion could benefit from more oak aging time to soften and integrate the tannins. Too young to drink now. I am amazed to learn the price is 588 rmb, or almost $100 US dollars.

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