The SOMM Journal

August / September 2015

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18 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2015 { one woman's view } Karen MacNeil is the author of The Wine Bible and the forthcoming The Wine Bible 2nd Edition. Contact her at karen@ NINGXIA, CHINA. WHEN THE FAMOUS LONDON WINE RETAILER BERRY Brothers & Rudd recently predicted that in 50 years, the quality of Chinese wine would rival that of Bordeaux, most wine professionals (including me) were stunned. Now, having just returned from Ningxia—sometimes called the "Napa Valley of China"—I think the retailer may have gotten it wrong. I believe fine Chinese wine will be globally well known in fewer than ten years. According to Deputy Communist Party Secretary of Ningxia, Hao Linhai, there will be 50,000 hectares (123,000 acres) of vineyards in Ningxia within the next five years (that's three times the current acreage of Napa Valley) plus 400 to 500 wineries (currently there are 100 wineries in Ningxia). And the quality? Frankly, I was astounded. After tasting nearly a hundred wines and barrel samples, I was convinced that in a blind tasting, the top small-production Ningxia wines could easily pass as good quality California wines or Bordeaux (depending on the style of the producer). Ningxia is on a fast track that can barely be comprehended in the Western world. Hundreds upon hundreds of building cranes operate in every direction. Tens of thousands of men—three shifts a day—build highways and roads to the wineries while thousands of Uyghur women in pink head scarfs (most are Muslim) painstakingly plant trees and shrubs along the new roads. The trees are critical, for Ningxia, and the main wine region known as Helan Mountain East Foothills are on the cusp of the Gobi Desert, and ferocious winds cre - ate thick dust storms unless the earth is held in place. Vineyards in fact would be impossible here w ere it not for enormous irrigation infrastructures that siphon water from the Yellow River. The overall impression is surreal—1930s Las Vegas meets Dubai meets wine country. "Our focus is the château model," Mr. Hao told me. "We insist that vineyards be planted first and that the winery be built within view of the vines. We have developed a classifica - tion system along the lines of the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux. In our system, however, wineries must start at the basic level, Level 5, and work up to Level 1, our equivalent of a First Growth. So far, there are no Level 1 classified Ningxia châteaux, but we are still a young industry." Wine world, get ready. Author Karen MacNeil views a vineyard in Ningxia. PHOTO: ROBERT TODD ADLER "First Growths" from the Edge of the Gobi Desert? IT'S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME . . . "The château model": a selection of fine Chinese wines. PHOTO: ROBERT TODD ADLER by Karen MacNeil

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