Wine production is burgeoning in an ancient, mountainous region of China, where an Austrian winemaker has found his niche, writes Olenka Hamilton
At Yinchuan’s barrel-shaped wine institute, a display compares corruption in politics to oxidation in wine, while another informs how Karl Marx made 847 mentions of the fermented grape.
Ningxia, an ancient, mountainous region nudging the Gobi Desert, has built, partially to wash away poverty, a major wine industry in two decades, replete with government endorsed wine road. Rising from the sand and irrigated by the Yellow River, chic and extravagant wineries include Chandon’s sparkling oriented horizontal skyscraper which echoes, architecturally, the solitary vine posts during the cruel winter when vines are buried for protection, while Yuanshi is a fortress-like tribute to its non-drinking stonemason owner, expected to last 1,000 years.
But arguably the most imposing edifice in the oasis is Château Changyu Moser XV, overseen by fifteenth generation Austrian winemaker, Lenz M. Moser, and the jewel in the crown of parent company, Changyu’s eight flamboyant châteaux. Costing $70m, it features frescoes praising cultural cooperation and well-nourished vineyards of thick-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon leading to wines good enough to lure well-heeled homeland drinkers from an estimated yearly output of 10 billion litres of grain spirit, ‘Baijiu’.
On his 49th visit to China, Moser praises China’s energy as we arrive at Changyu Moser XV’s first fountain of cherubs by gates resembling Buckingham Palace and an anticipative eight-lane motorway. His contract started in 2009 primarily focused on marketing. ‘What changed is Jasper Morris, the former ‘Mr. Burgundy’ of London’s Berry Brothers & Rudd said the wine had to get better every year, so I began being involved in critical elements.’
While running a winery can be seductive, Ningxia’s ‘Achilles heel’ is its vineyards, says Moser, ‘which aren’t trained the way we’d like because of lack of knowledge.’ However, his vision is to farm biodynamically. ‘Give us 5-10 years, but you can already taste the future…’
Showing China is an innovator, Moser’s lushly textured, apple-scented White Cabernet, Changyu Moser XV 2016 (£18.99, Selfridges) is entirely spun from red grapes, while inky reds deliver a big bang of pure fruit, including ‘junior cuvée’, Moser XV 2015 (£14.95, BBR). The 2013 Grand Vin is a fulsome, lavish being, built to patiently mature. (£74.99, Selfridges
Douglas Blyde is a gastronomy consultant and wine columnist for the Evening Standard