India's First Wine, Food and Hospitality Website, INDIAN WINE ACADEMY, Specialists in Food & Wine Programmes. Food Importers in Ten Cities Across India. Publishers of delWine, India’s First Wine.
Skip Navigation Links
About Us
Indian Market
Wine & Health
Wine Events
Retail News
Contact Us
Skip Navigation Links
Wine Tourism
Book Review
Photo Gallery
Readers' Comments
Video Wall
Media Partners
Ask Wineguyindia
Wine & Food
Wine Guru
Gerry Dawes
Harvest Reports
Mumbai Reports
Advertise With Us
US Report on Indian Market Released
Top Ten Importers List 2015-16
On Facebook
On Twitter
Delhi Wine Club
Vintage in Xinjiang 2015

Posted: Wednesday, 18 November 2015 16:20


If you Like this article, please click

Email This Article

Vintage in Xinjiang 2015

Nov 18: A vintage in Xinjiang, China, is a distinctly different experience from a vintage in Bordeaux, writes John Salvi, Master of Wine, who is an expert on Bordeaux wines but has spent a considerable time in Xinjiang China where he is currently the consultant chief winemaker for Changyu Pioneer Wine Company and gives an interesting account of winemaking in that region with all its quirks and specialties

Xinjiang is an enormous Province in the very far east of China.  Absolutely vast, it accounts for one sixth of the entire territory of China.  It is in fact the 8th largest county sub-division in the world encompassing over 1.6 million square kilometres.  It has numerous borders (10): Russia, Inner Mongolia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Tibet. 

The capital is Urumqi with a population of over 3 million inhabitants.  Amazingly for such a huge province only 4.3% of it is considered to be land fit for human habitation.  Much of it is desert and Urumqi is the furthest place on the globe from any sea-coast.  Much of its agricultural land growing cotton, grapes and other fruits is reclaimed desert.  It is on the ancient silk route and a grandiose new project concerning the silk route, recently unveiled by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, promises to bring enormous added trade and importance to the area.

The vineyards, belonging to Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, for whom I am the chief winemaker in Xinjiang, are situated near the town of Shihezi, which means Stony River Banks.  Shihezi is a sub-prefecture level city in northern Xinjiang with a population of 635,552 inhabitants at the last consensus.  The town’s responsibility covers 460 square kilometres.    There are also some vineyards still further north just a stone’s throw from the Russian border. Some 60% of the Xinjiang population is Muslim, of the Uyghur tribe, and in public places everything is written in both Chinese and Uyghur Arabic which helps me not at all!! 

The climate is extreme.  It can easily reach 45°C in summer and can descend to -30°C in winter.  Naturally the vines have to be buried under 20 centimetres of soil from November to early April and as we lack mechanisation it is all done by hand, which is very heavy and very cold work.  Water supply is scarce and the average annual rainfall is just 206 millimetres.  By contrast the evaporation is over 1,000 millimetres.   The beautiful Tien Shan Mountains are close by and occasionally provide a small amount of welcome additional water.  The climate is officially designated as continental semi-arid.

Changyu is an enormous company, among the five top wine and spirit groups in the world, owning vineyards and châteaux in 6 Provinces.  They give the lie to the belief that China is new to wine-making.  It was founded in 1892 and its first winemaker was an Austrian nobleman by the name of Baron Balboa who was equally famous in both China and Austria.  Changyu first imported the grape variety known as Cabernet-Gernischt, which has now been conclusively proved by DNA and by José Vouillamoz to be Carmenère, although it has mutated considerably since its importation at the end of the 19th Century.

In Xinjiang Changyu leases 120,000 Mu of land from the Government.  As I am sure everybody knows nobody owns land in China.  The People’s Republic owns it all and everybody has to lease it, generally on a 99-year lease.  There are 15 Mu to one hectare so Changyu leases 8,000 hectares.  Approximately 4,000 families are supported on these – some 30 Mu or 2 hectares per family.  Each family is responsible for looking after its patch of land throughout the year under the supervision of the Changyu viticulturists, rather like contracted vineyards in Bordeaux.  They will help, advise, support and tell the families when to do what and above all when to pick the grapes.

It is not so much the system of vintaging that surprises and amazes as the sheer vast size of it.  As the land is totally flat and the extent of the vineyards so huge the rows seem to stretch for ever.  Indeed, some of them are over 400 yards long.  Vintage time is a joyous occasion as it is all over the world, but is perhaps taken just a little bit more seriously because there is a controller at the end of these rows who inspects, approves and marks up every “cagette” by each and every picker.  They are paid by the number of “cagettes –plastic boxes almost exactly like those used at many châteaux in Bordeaux” that they pick each day.  Once approved by the controller the cagettes are loaded onto a waiting lorry.  Never in my life have I seen such a fantastic collection of antediluvian lorries in my life, some of them must surely date back to almost 1892!? 

Once fully loaded the lorries drive their cargo of grapes to the reception area back at the winery.  With so many farmers and so many pickers on so much land the lorries arrive thick and fast and I have counted over 100 lorries in a long line along the road waiting for their turn to unload.  Thank goodness for these “cagettes” because there is no pressure on the waiting bunches of grapes as there would be if they were in larger containers.  Therefore, no burst grapes and no juice to oxidise in the sun.  The grapes arrive at the destalking machine in perfect condition even after a long wait.  Fortunately, due to the climate, we have no insect problems, no diseases and no problem with rot except very occasionally a little downy mildew.                                                            . 
The destalking process is absolutely classical apart from its size.  Two parallel reception lines work 24 hours per day, on 8 hour shifts, for almost a month.  The “cagettes” are tipped out of the lorries straight onto the screws that lead the grapes into the destalking machine.  As everywhere else the stalks come out in one direction and are conveyed onto a waiting lorry, while the destalked grapes and juice are piped from the machine into the cellars and into a waiting vat. 

Both lines are connected to the computers in the control building manned by a permanent staff of 3.  The Brix reading is taken automatically every few seconds and both read by the supervisor and recorded for print-out later.  Any anomaly is signalled by the computer immediately.  Also the pipes leading to the fermentation tanks can be switched automatically to feed a different tank.  That way if it is desired to have a tank full of grapes with a higher sugar content this can be done by simply switching tanks when the required Brix reading comes up on the computer.  This year, believe it or not, 93,500 metric tons of grapes were logged through the reception area.  Normally the yield here per hectare is between 12-18 tons.  This year it was even hotter and dryer than usual and the grapes were both small and thick skinned so the average yield was around 12 tons/hectare.  With 8 thousand hectares, as mentioned above, this tallies almost perfectly.

I firmly believe in a policy of minimum intervention, but soon found that here in Xinjiang this is wishful thinking.  The Chinese like their red wines to have a deep, intense colour and will not accept even the slightest deposit.  To deal with the first point we have to add tannin to stabilise the colour.  I do not like doing this and we already have more than sufficient tannin in the wine.  Also, due to the climate, the tannins tend to be rather dry, but so far I have found no other solution.  However, there are several laboratories that are making tannins that help soften the mouth-feel and these are proving extremely helpful in smoothing and gentling the wine.  For the second point we still cold stabilise, but as of next year, for the top wine, I intend to use a method that will not strip the wine at all.  I said earlier that we registered 95,500 metric tons of grapes.  Most of these are used for the entry level wines, but for the wine for which I am the chief winemaker, Château Changyu Balboa, we selected 30,000 tons and I intend to treat these more and more lovingly in future to make better and better wines and even to win a couple of Gold Medals in international tasting competitions that Changyu have set their heart upon!

Sometimes we have to acidify and when this is required I do it at the earliest possible moment.  We do use enzymes and as long as used correctly and minimally I have no problem with this.  They definitely help speed thing up.  After malo-lactic fermentation and tasting the best tanks of my 30,000 tons are put into French oak Bordeaux barrels to mature.  Only some 20% go into new barrels and I am toning down the desire to over-oak that many Chinese think make a noble wine out of a vin ordinaire!

I do not pretend that we make great wine.  That would be highly presumptuous.  I think our entry level wines are the standard of decent French vin de table and my Château Changyu Balboa is the standard of a decent Bourgeois claret, but can be considerably better when we have refined our techniques.  One thing I can say with pride and certainty – the wines are 100% genuine own-grape Chinese wines.  There is no addition of imported wines or any other extraneous material as in so many other Chinese wines.  For better of for worse the wines are totally honest and it is my job and my full intention to make sure it is for better!

John Salvi MW

If you Like this article please click on the Like button   



Remie Law Says:

Heartiest congratulations to John! That's why I don't see him in many of the wine circuits, recently. Subhash, we should plan a visit to Shihezi during the next harvest.

Posted @ November 20, 2015 13:24


Want to Comment ?
Please enter your comments in the space provided below. If there is a problem, please write directly to Thank you.

Generate a new image

Type letters from the image:

Please note that it may take some time to get your comment published...Editor

Wine In India, Indian Wine, International Wine, Asian Wine Academy, Beer, Champagne, World Wine Academy, World Wine, World Wines, Retail, Hotel


Copyright©indianwineacademy, 2003-2020 |All Rights Reserved
Developed & Designed by Sadilak SoftNet