The SOMM Journal

February / March 2017

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w East Helan Mountain areas, the latest one being on August 22, 2016. It is not uncom- mon to have rainfall at the end of August, just w eeks before harvest. Winter arrived early last year, heavy rain turning into snow in the early morning of my visit on October 27. I witnessed the rare yet enchanting sight of autumn foliage waving bravely amidst the virgin snow. And yet, despite the most challenging forces of nature, trying geography and difficult climate, this region has attracted 95-plus wineries since the late 1990s. New vineyards are being cultivated at record speed, entailing the removal of stones for the sandy loam and gravelly soil to be pre - pared for vine-growing. Among the many newcomers are a few vivacious female winemakers and owner- operators whose life stories are as aspira - tional as their wines. The husband and wife team of Bordeaux-tr ained Emma Gao and Thierry Courtade (ex-Calon Ségur) are proud owners of Silver Heights. Emma's wines are reflective of the French winemak - ing ethos. "Our winery is modest in size and operation; we pour our resources into our wines by producing quality grapes," she says. "We have a minimal intervention approach, as we want to capture the essence of what our vineyards present as of that moment in time." I couldn't help but recall the words on the back label of Domaine Drouhin's Oregon Pinot: "French soul, Oregon soil"; I wonder whether the situation here isn't analogous? Another winery that casts a light on the region is Helan Qingxue. Its Jiabeilan Grand Reserve 2009 won a Decanter International Trophy in 2011. The enthusiastic winemaker, Zhang Jing, was no less passionate when she pointed to Decanter Managing Director Sarah Kemp's handwriting on a barrel of her blend: "A Wine That Made History." The winemaker explained: "After a ten- year vertical tasting of the wines in 2015, Sarah said it reaffirmed the award, as the wines had evidently stood the test of time." Zhang Jing's mentor is the authoritative Bordeaux-trained Professor Li Demei, the consulting winemaker since the winery's inception in 2005. Looking at Ningxia through these wom - en's eyes, I felt like Alice having descended into a new Wonderland. Casting aside noises of the many challenges this region presents, I saw a distant glimpse of the highway that runs north-south through the region—currently nothing more than a few vineyards and experimental sites—bristling with road signs for tourist centers and vine - yards that are not yet operational. Sit tight, as I tell my Western friends . . . where there is a will, there is a way. And that mighty will could not be more real and heartfelt considering the amount of capital poured into the construction of vineyards, tree-planting efforts and the building of tourist centers, hotels, wine museums, chateaus and boutique wineries that stand to witness a new chapter of Chinese wine history. This is a miracle in the making—not the emergence of a dynasty, but the cre - ation of an industry that will stun us all. Zhang Jing, co-founder and winemaker of Helan Qingxue Vineyard. Silver Heights' vines amidst the splendor of China's formidable Helan Mountains. PHOTO: JOSEPH BRENNAN PHOTO COURTESY OF CHÂTEAU HELAN QINGXUE

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