|Grapegrower & Winemaker||Wine & Viticulture Journal||Wine Industry Directory||
||Daily Wine News||
Aussies export their expert advice to China
Name: Ken Murchison, Chan Chun Keung, Judy Leissner.
The contemporary wine industry in China began to take shape in the early 1980s, with the establishment of today's No. 2 and No. 3 wineries, Great Wall and Dynasty - and France was there again. Great Wall didn't have French equity participation but, nevertheless, has been heavily resourced through French technical inputs over the years. Dynasty, established in 1980 and initially known as the Sino-French Joint Venture, was a more conventional joint venture, with Remy Cointreau holding a 33 per cent equity stake and providing direct technical guidance.
Testimony to the level of commitment by the French to play a major role in China's wine industry is the Sino-French demonstration Vineyard - including a winery and research centre - on the verges of the Great Wall, north of Beijing. It is a joint venture between the governments of each country and is said to be the brainchild of Premier Wen Jiabao, following an inspirational visit to France in 1997. Its charter is for both sides to work together to find new, sustainable directions for the wine industry in China.
By comparison, Australian involvement has, until recently, been modest - though not insignificant. The first major Australian presence was at Hua Dong winery in Qingdao, Shandong Province, set up in the mid-1980s by Michael Perry, a Hong Kong-based Englishman with an intense interest in wine and more than a passing knowledge of Australia's wine credentials.
The venture materialised on a typical 'New World' formula with, until recently, predominantly Australian inputs. Many of the vines were brought in from Australia, along with people to set up and run the vineyard and winery, and some of the staff were trained at Charles Sturt University.
Huadong was the first Chinese winery to launch varietally labelled wines - a Chardonnay, a Rhine Riesling and a Gamay - and the first to declare vintage on the label. It signalled a new era when, in 1993, it took out major awards at WINPAC in Hong Kong, competing against top wines from Australia, New Zealand, California and Chile and followed up with awards in Europe and North America.
Another winery that has had a long-term reliance on Australian inputs is Qingdao Dongni winery. Victorian winemaker, Neil Robb (Redbank Winery), has been the winery's senior consultant overseeing vineyard management and winemaking since 1997. He says there have been plenty of challenges. 'The available technology and skill level in the operation is quite good, but the weather is always a problem, making it difficult to ripen fruit, especially late ripening red varieties.'
The Australian presence has grown significantly in the past few years and is now quite substantial. Unlike the French, Australia has not had the institutional framework to engage with the industry in China much beyond the promotion and sale of Australian wine.
The driver, rather, has been a growing understanding within the industry in China of what Australia can offer across the viticulture to winemaking spectrum and a strengthening determination to source it. They seek the potential to emulate Australia's progression from virtually nowhere in global terms to one of the industry's leaders today.
It is common to hear people in China's wine industry contrasting what they see as an open-minded, optimalising Australian approach with the approach by many European experts who they see as being determined simply to replicate their own traditions in the Chinese environment.
Laffer leads new charge
An interesting case in point is Pernod Ricard's new large-scale Helan Mountains Winery, in the western province of Ningxia. Former Jacobs Creek leader Phillip Laffer was drafted by his French employer in 2005 to orient the viticulture and winemaking operations. He says 'it is not our intention to be making 'Australian' wine here but, rather, to do what we need to do to produce the best possible wine with the resources we can muster.'
To help achieve that, there has been a succession of Australians in key roles in the vineyards and winery. The chief winemaker now is Susan Mickan, having succeeded Lilian Carter who worked the 2008 and 2009 vintages: her 2008 Special Reserve Chardonnay was awarded the Wine of China trophy at the Hong Kong International Wine Fair in 2009. Philip Deverell has had overall responsibility for viticulture until recently and is to be replaced by another Australian in this role.
Another leading winery that has switched from French to Australian primary inputs is Grace Vineyard, in Shanxi province. It was initially set up under the direction of Frenchman Gerard Colin but, for the past five vintages, has been overseen by Victorian viticulturist and winemaker, Ken Murchison (Portree Vineyard).
Grace Vineyard CEO Judy Leissner says 'Ken is a great asset for the company as he is knowledgeable and experienced'.
'He leads the team and provides them with direction and methods: he also brings diversity to the winery, and I think that's rather important, particularly as we want to foster a winery culture that is open and innovative,' she said.
'Ken definitely helps us to build ties with Australia - whether it's suppliers or information or BBQs!'
Treaty Port Vineyards, at Penglai in Shandong Province, is a very new venture relying on Australian operational direction: it has just bottled its first vintage (2009).
Owner Chris Ruffle, a long-term resident of China, says he asked Hunter Valley winemaker and vigneron Mark Davidson to help him after visiting his Tamburlaine vineyard in early 2009.
'I have been impressed with the steady quality of his wine, and his organic approach to grapegrowing, which is in marked contrast to the chemical-intensive methods used by Chinese farmers,' Ruffle said.
He said he had previously used French consultants from Bordeaux and Languedoc, 'but I found Mark more adaptable to local conditions whereas the French winemakers are burdened by centuries of tradition.'
'Mark has also helped us get official Australian approval to bottle Australian wine imported in bulk and we hope to extend this bottling service to other overseas wine producers who would like to develop the China market saving on considerable tax and packaging costs,' he said.
'The arrangement works well from Mark's point of view because he already had an export business into China, so was somewhat familiar with the market, and the North/South hemisphere split works well in terms of division of time.'
Aussies spread across China
Australians have become a principal resource for other ventures in far western China. Shandong-based Weilong (Grand Dragon) Winery, one of China's top five, has primarily drawn on Australian expertise to set up in Gansu Province what it claims to be 'the biggest organic winery in China, owning the largest organic vineyard in the world'.
Specifically, it claims to be agrochemical-free, chemical fertiliser-free and contaminant-free. Weilong makes a great promotional feature of the panel of six international professionals who are technically directing the project: five are Australians, one is Italian.
Sunraysia-based Bruno Zappia has been involved in the project for five years now and is the team leader. He is directly addressing the not insubstantial viticultural challenges, supported by the Italian, Eugenio Sartori, and Australians Brett Irvine and Bill Avery (who are primarily focussed on soil development and soil management). Winemaking is directed by Nigel Westblade, of Casella Wines, and he is supported in this role by Sam Brewer.
Bruno Zappia sees the major challenges in the project as viticultural. He says the short growing season makes it difficult to adequately ripen fruit, especially later ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon (the Chinese industry's staple variety).
Other challenges are presented by the long and extremely cold winter and the resultant need to cover the vines with soil for protection, as well as the need to get growers to moderate water usage in order to manage yields and to avoid running down water sources.
Nigel Westblade says Chardonnay and Viognier are the best performing white varieties in local conditions and Merlot of the red varieties.
Sergio Carlei (Carlei Estate, Victoria) has been working with another western frontier pioneer, Vini Suntime, to work out ways to get the best from its massive plantings in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
He too sees a lot of work being necessary to appropriately manage the vines in the local conditions, particularly with pruning and canopy management. The approach to winemaking, he says, in some ways mirrors what was happening in the early years of the modern Australian industry where big scale and automation were the order of the day, rather than personal intervention in pursuit of style and quality.
Well-known and globally-based wine consultant Tony Jordan, who has been surveying progress in the new frontiers recently while advising Moet Hennessy on location options for a wine production base in China, sees considerable potential in these new areas, compared with the more established areas on the east coast.
He sees the need for adaptation in the vineyard, but is confident that the local mood is now more flexible and tending in the right direction. He says 'it can be done, and when it is done, the wines will more closely resemble Western quality standards, while offering local style manifestations, and we will eventually see this very substantial local industry playing a role on the global stage'.
There is no doubt that China will be an increasingly important player in the international wine industry. The increased involvement on the ground in China of open-minded Australians, backed up by a reverse flow of locals coming to Australia to get a first-hand understanding of what Australia can do for them, makes it likely now that Australia will have a prominent place in that future.
Other feature articles
- Natalie Fryar, Winemaker, Jansz Tasmania
- Angelo Puglisi, Ballandean Estate, Queensland
- Dave Cleary, West Cape Howe Wines, WA
- Kim Chalmers, Chalmers Nurseries, NSW
- Tiffany Nugan, Nugan Estate, NSW
- Doug Bowen, Bowen Estate, SA
- Drew Brent-White, Windance Estate, WA
- Ian Hollick, Hollick Wines, SA
- Andrew Nugent, Bird in Hand Winery, SA
- Jim Chatto, Pepper Tree Wines, NSW
- Tony Keys, The Key Files
- Forum in pursuit of Pinot excellence
- Andrew Naylor, Pernod Ricard, NZ
- Samantha Scarratt, Fishtail Vineyards, New Zealand
- Adam Hooper and Elena Golakova, La Curio, SA
- Kathleen Quealy, T’Gallant/Balnarring Vineyard/Quealy Wine, VIC
- Richard Smart, Tamar Ridge Wines, TAS
- Terry Lee
- Ben Glover, Wither Hills, NZ
- David Fonseca Guimaraens, Fonseca and Taylor’s Port, Portugal
- Sam Temme, Lloyd Brothers, SA
- Peter May
- Colin Kay, Kay Brothers Amery, SA
- Mark Deegenaars, Sirromet Wines, QLD
- Peter Dry, University of Adelaide, SA
- Simon Thistlewood, Bimbadgen Estate, NSW
- David Lehmann, Barossa Valley, SA
- Mark Lloyd, Coriole Vineyards, McLaren Vale, SA
- Tom Harvey, Chalk Hill, SA
- Albarino – potentially Australia’s great white hope
- Ian Hendy, Tahbilk, VIC
- Oak trials instigated to create the right balance
- Jason Conti, Paul Conti Wines, WA
- Swan Valley goes organic in its approach to wine production
- 100-year-old vines saved from destruction
- Paul Boulden, Margaret River, WA
- Pinot trophy wine a close call
- Grenache finds its place in the spotlight
- Ashley Ratcliff, Yalumba Wine Company, SA
- Lessons from a fiery day in February
- Prolific Penfolds takes a double triumph
- Great win for Tatachilla Shiraz
- Ian Long, Yarraman Estate, NSW
- Capercaillie looks to future
- Tolley leaves AWBC in good shape
- Julian Parrot, Mandala Wines, NSW
- Yarra Valley’s Sticks grows up
- Rebuilding Bianchet Winery
- Kalleskes take organic grapegrowing to heart
- Vineyards benefit from WWOOF program
- Organic producer in touch with the earth
- BackVintage adopts integrated IT solution
- Lark Hill achieves full biodynamic certification
- Joseph Gilbert of Pewsey Vale – early maker of the classic Australian blend
- Sam Statham, Rosnay Wines, NSW
- Young achiever to study in USA
- Evolving Durif at Morris Wines
- Diane Miller, The Vintage Wineworx, WA
- NZ’s star producer guided by the cosmos
- On the rise: Pinot Gris secures its place
- Killeen wins Winetitles’ scholarship
- Rebecca Wilson, Tamar Valley, TAS
- Liz Riley, Vitibit, Hunter Valley
- The Gilberts of Pewsey Vale: the next generation
- Mark Cairns, Riverside Wines, Hawke’s Bay
- Craigow wins Tasmanian Vineyard of the Year
- Cornwall’s Camel Valley sets Sparkling pace in the UK
- Fred Peacock, Bream Creek Vineyard, Tasmania
- Arneis a winner, no matter how you say it
- WA’s Vanya Cullen named ‘woman of the year’
- McWilliams Mount Pleasant Estate award-winning cellar door
- Planning eases heatwave burden for Mount Horrocks
- Supplier of the Year proves customer service goes a long way
- Meet Ken Murchison
- The journey of Tempranillo to Australia
- Successful events have wineries bursting into song
- Jim Barry Wines winemaker chooses biodynamic option
- Meet Belinda Gould
- Hard grind is paying off for Sangiovese
- Biodynamic viticulture benefits Nazaraay Estate Winery
- Monitoring the key to reducing water use
- Consistently improving the quality and reputation of Australian Cabernet
- Making sure vines are true to type
- Lessons from the drought
- A story of Cuban cigars and a good nose
- A Murray Valley winery has released one of Australia’s first 100% carbon-neutral wines
- John Casella: The brains behind the brand
- Quality Tasmanian Pinot Noir stems from varying degrees of stalk removal
- Young leader forecasts positive future for Australian viticulture businesses
- China’s light shines on Aussie export radar
- Driving the blue bus of industry exposure
- Noble wine proves sweet for Australian wine industry
- Solar energy schemes lack uniformity in Australia
- Solutions for the wine industry’s fiddlier labelling jobs
- Carbon neutrality: The new black
- An understanding of excellence: James Irvine and his life in wine
- Can Australia overcome a harsh reality in the US
- Cape Mentelle treats itself to first place
- Aussies export their expert advice to China
- Bruce Tyrell: the Don Quixote of Semillon
- Why the past could help unlock grape’s future
- Brazil opportunities beckon
- Cool wine regions to benefit from research on new pathogen
- Wineries embrace sensory analysis
- Author reveals first steps to marketing magic
- China - emerging market or competitor?
- Young Vine Decline is studied closely in NSW
- Is the Shiraz berry the biggest loser?
- Small players the big winners for tomorrow’s vineyard
- Save money and wine by choosing the right bentonite
- Significant variations in an Iconic Coonawarra vineyard lead to radical solutions
- Sustainable pest control – now and in a changing climate
- Is there value in adding tannin to wine?
- How do country of origin, closure type and label style affect purchase decisions?
- City sellers
- Selective science – from the vineyard to the winery
- Change agenda includes new thinking
- WineCloud provides future direction for winemakers
- The iron(III) tartrate photochemistry of wine: impacts of bottle colour and weight
- How important are wine medals and how much can we rely on those who assign them?
- Big rewards in fine detail
- Italian inspiration for novel Nero d’Avola making
- Oak deserves its fine environmental credentials
- Machinery maintenance is key to vintage success
- Wine: does vine age really matter?
- SA wineries make a positive and lasting impression
- Magazine pages bring history to life for Rutherglen grower
- Coles tells small wineries to ‘work with us’
- Distinguished vineyard sites are essential for quality fruit production says Petaluma
- From vine to bottle: sustainability a core value for Barossa winery
- Adapt and innovate in a challenging wine business world
- Verduzzo - a 'crazy' white
- Australia’s grapevine germplasm collections under threat
- Expo offers suppliers a chance to shine
- Wineries celebrate end of vintage
- Artisan by name and nature
- Barossa symposium delivers tips for Shiraz vineyard management
- Research to reveal best irrigation practice in dry winters
- Lake’s Folly proves its credentials over 50 years
- New research sheds light on flavour additives in wine
- It’s a three-ringed circus
- Trying to paint the world red
- Where do little winemakers come from?
- A chip off the old block
- The rise and rise of Gatt Wines
- Bizot and Croser – a marriage made in the vineyard
- Wine’s wild man rides into town
- Jeff Bond – a licence to thrill
- The Visionary – who’s laughing now
- Chilling out in Australian wine’s own Ice Age
- Quarter of our wines face Chinese ban
- Four-year research project investigates early influence of oxygen
- Australian winemakers’ views towards oak barrel alternatives matures
- Ready…set…tweet! How you can bank your social media benefits
- Wine show season: It seems not all wine shows would earn a gold medal
- January 2015 Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine out now
- Smart & Sustainable: Jana Shepherd
- Lazy bones: Jo Perry’s ironic nickname
- Can’t sit still: Bleasdale’s energiser bunny
- Meet New Zealand’s best young viti
- Suzie Muntz
- Clare Burder: Ideas are nothing without action
- Steve Baraglia: A tale of two valleys
- The terror of terroir - By Tony Keys