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Delhi Wine Club
By the Grace of China

Posted: Wednesday, 28 September 2011 14:31

By the Grace of China

Sep 28 : Not many in the world of wine have visited the vineyard in China. Certainly I would never have done so, and had no expectation of so doing, had I not had the pleasure of meeting Judy Leissner of Grace Vineyard during Vinexpo as I was subsequently asked to judge an International Wine Competition in Shanghai, writes Count John Salvi MW from Bordeaux.

Taking advantage of being in China, my wife and I flew to Taiyuan airport, a two and a- half hour flight from Shanghai.  A small tertiary town, it supports the modest population of some 4 million inhabitants!!

Judy Leissner of Grace

Judy Leissner is a dynamic, vivacious and captivating young lady who wears her considerable responsibility attractively lightly.  She manages and runs, and chiefly lives at Grace Vineyard in the Taigu area of the Shanxi Province.  It is situated in a small village, which is truly the traditional, rustic, country China.  The Winery and vineyard belong to her father, but being an indefatigable entrepreneur; he is far too occupied with Pig Iron, Coal, Department Stores and Property, among other things, and leaves the running of Grace Vineyard entirely to his daughter.  During the Cultural Revolution he was sent to Inner Mongolia, but has since made his fortune.  His daughter, Judy was born in Hong Kong.

We spent 3 days there visiting the vineyard and the cellars and tasting the wine in depth.  Judy also arranged for us to visit some historic mansions and ancient towns, but that is another story.

Grace Vineyard

There are 204 hectares under vine here and in production.  There are also 67 hectares in Ding Xiang, also in Shanxi Province, and a further 400 in the Province of Ningxia, which is a newly discovered region that is supposed to promise great things.  Vineyard are being established there apace and both Pernod Ricard and MHD have planted.  The Rothschilds of Lafite have planted in Shandong, but the vineyard is not yet in production. Thus Grace Vineyard owns 671 hectares in total, but all the grapes are brought here to be vinified centrally and all the wine is stored and bottled here as well.

Judy’ first vintage was 2001 and she formally launched her wines onto the market in 2003.  Since 2002 Grace Vineyard has won a continuous string of medals and awards from around the globe.

The vineyard are extremely well kept.  The vineyard manager is Feng Liu, who studied oenology and worked in New Zealand.  He is knowledgeable, meticulous and efficient.  It was he who very kindly chaperoned us most of the time.  Ken Murchison, who lives abroad and visits when required, is the chief Winemaker and Viticulturist.  A great friend C.S. Lau (who I nickname Sun), who lives in Hong Kong and is the owner and Editor of the top wine magazine “Wine Now” is Judy’s consultant.  He had kindly flown in to be our guide, mentor and advisor during our visit, as well as a divine amateur Chinese cook! 

Burying the Vines

The soil is chiefly very deep, sandy loam, blown in over the ages from Mongolia.  The weather is extreme and it is a major challenge to produce healthy and ripe grapes at all.  This does not deter Judy.  It becomes so cold in winter that the vines have to be pruned right down and covered with some 30-40 centimetres of soil.  In Shandong there is no need to bury the vines as it is near the coast and has no frost.  However frost in Ningxia killed 60% of the crop in 2010.  This burying is done in November.  Snow falls from end October. 

The vines are uncovered in April, flower around 15th May, and the grapes are harvested mid-September.  Spring frosts are frequent and wait too long to pick and autumn frosts will bite as well.  This short vegetative cycle makes full development of flavour compounds and bouquet a challenge for the winemaker.  The summer is fiercely hot, and humidity is extremely high, so totally regular and efficient spraying is absolutely essential against botrytis, white fungus and downy mildew.  A prevalent insect pest is the leaf mite. 

Lovely Weather

Phylloxera did not reach China so the vines are not grafted.  A few of the vines are still head-pruned (gobelet), but most are trained classically on wires and pruned on the Double Guyot system.  Majority of them are planted at a density of 4,125 and also at 8,250 vines per hectare.  Shanxi has about 2,500 hours of sunshine per annum, whereas Ningxia has up to 3,000.  Annual rainfall in Taigu is around 450 mm per year, in Ding Xiang 350 and n Ningxia Province just over 250 mm.  All the vineyard are high for coolness and range from 870-930 metres above sea level in Taigu to between 1,200 and right up to 1,700 in Ningxia

Grapes of Grace

Judy has planted the classical grape varieties:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Chardonnay.  She is also experimenting with the Italian grape varietal Aglianico and Marselan, a French wine grape that is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. It was first bred in 1961 near the French town of Marseillan and is grown mostly in the Languedoc region with some plantings on Northern Coast of California and produces a medium-body red wine. 

Wine making is classical as are the wines.  Cold soaking, fermentation in stainless steel vats at moderate temperatures, malolactic fermentation for the red wines but not the whites, maturing in fine French oak, 225-litre barrels, with a proportion of new oak depending upon the structure of the wine, are some of the features.  Cultured yeasts are used as the Chinese wild yeasts are a touch TOO wild!  Wines are cold stabilised at -4°C and are filtered through silicon.

A staff of 85 is employed on this particular property, including 5 lady cooks, canteen staff, drivers and workers.  A lot of them are local, but in the fast developing China people no longer want to live in the villages.  It is not socially acceptable.  They want to live in towns, so she brings in young people and students.  However she finds that all of them marry each other and then have children at the same time!

Land owned by the State

It is important to remember that in China one NEVER owns the land.  It remains the property of the State.  Many of the vineyard and wineries in China are State owned.  The State would like to attract heavy industry wherever possible as this would be more profitable and pay more tax.  If you are too small you may not make enough profit to please it.  However if you are too successful you may be regarded as a profiteer.  Nonetheless as a winery you have to have your own waste facilities and infrastructure so it is impossible to be TOO small.  Judy aims to strike a fine balance and keep everybody happy.  At present, from all the vineyard, the cellar holds some 3,000 barrels of 225 litre French oak barrels_ almost certainly the largest number of barrels in any Chinese winery!  A brand new modern winery, kitchen, reception and tasting rooms, and a house for her father are under construction and when finished, later this year, will be magnificent.

Apart from the vineyard there are 26 wine shops scattered throughout China, which sell the Grace Vineyard wines as well as the usual full range of alcoholic beverages.  There are also regional distributors.  When I asked about the export market Judy told me that at present she sells every bottle that she produces on the Chinese market and has not so far had the time or felt the necessity to export. 

Wine Styles and Tends

Marketing in China is a vital part of the game.   It is ALL.  Wine is sold at any price up to totally astronomical ones, with ABSOLUTELY no relationship between the price and the quality.  Fancy packaging and outrageous claims are part of the game.  Also the Chinese market does not like much tannin or acidity in the wine.  Previously, when the principal Chinese diet was vegetables and cereal the body was cold and did not like cold or iced drinks.  Now, in the greatly developed China, the diet is richer and with much more meat and the stronger body accepts iced drinks and chilled white wine, although wine consumption remains hugely predominantly red.

Judy wants her wine to be known for its quality above all, but also for its price/quality ratio.  She says “our strategy focus is to have a good reputation rather than just being well-known”.  For this reason she eschews the fancy price route and puts her delicious wines on the Chinese market for the very reasonable Chinese equivalent of around 15 Euros.  Her brand “Deep Blue” was the first and ONLY Chinese wine EVER to be served on Cathay Pacific First Class in all its 60 years of history!

The wines are truly among the very few fine wines produced in China today which are being well made, matured and handled with loving care. Judy is fully occupied with her home market, but one looks forward to the day when her wines will be available on the export market and will prove, beyond doubt that China and Grace Vineyard can make World Class wines.

John Salvi, Master of Wine

Tags: China, Grace Vineyards, Taigu, Shanxi, Ningxia, Judy Leissner, Taiyuan, Shanghai, Feng Liu, John Salvi,



Sidd Banerji Says:

Had my first peep into Chinese wine world.Nicely done article,usual with Delwine.Cheers,yours in wine world.

Posted @ October 17, 2011 12:40


Yegas Naidoo Says:

Good evening to you. Just a quick note to inform you that I enjoyed reading your article on wines made in China " By the Grace of China ". It was informative , balanced and enlightening in more ways than one. Kind regards. Yegas

Posted @ October 05, 2011 11:13


Marc Perelló Colomer Says:

Dear Subhash, Nice article about Judy Leissner and her wines ‘Grace Vineyards’… shame for me that is not mentioning our JV wines between Grace & Torres, range Symphonies, with a huge success in Main Land China, named last 2 years the best Chinease wine!… I think Mr.John Salvi missed it! Thanks. Marc

Posted @ October 04, 2011 11:10


Charles Metcalfe Says:

Excellent piece by John Salvi, the man who set me on the path to appreciation of fine Bordeaux wines. Informative about Grace Vineyard, and offering useful insights into the Chinese wine market as well.

Posted @ October 04, 2011 10:57


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