introduction to Shandong
We spent one week in Shandong, one of China's major wine-producing provinces (accounting for nearly 40 percent of China’s total wine production). This region is located on the east coast of the country, between Beijing and Shanghai, and benefits from an oceanic climate, with cool summers and warm winters. Thanks to its location and its climate, Shandong has attracted international investments, notably from Bordeaux producers such as Baron de Rothschild.
The most important grape varieties planted there are Cabernet Gernischt, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Chardonnay. The wineries are mainly around the city of Yantai, where the first grapes were planted in the late 19th century by Changyu wine company, one of the most famous domestic wine producer. Due to its location on the coast and its proximity to China’s two major cities, Shandong is a great spot for wine tourism. A lot of properties there are built with a French style and are called « chateau ». We’ve been surprised by these huge properties, spectacular (and sometimes a bit kitsch), looking like princess house!
We visited Château Reifeng-Auzias in Penglai and Château Huadong-Parry in Qingdao as well as other wineries in-between.
story of chateau reifeng-auzias
Château Reifeng-Auzias was born in 2003 from a joint venture between Wu Feng, who run a Chinese oil group and is passionate about wine, Dominique Auzias, publisher of tourist guides and owner of Château Auzias in France, and Michel Behar, an international financier and lawyer. Besides Wu Feng being from this region, they chose Penglai in Shandong Province because of its favorable climatic conditions (temperate climate, high rainfall, long sunshine hours) and also because the development of the wine industry is highly encouraged by the local government.
In 2003, they planted 23 hectares of vines with grape rootstocks from France: 10 of Cabernet Franc, 10 of Syrah (which is quite unusual for the region) and 3 of Chardonnay. They harvested for the first time in 2007. Their goal is to produce high quality wines from low yield vines.
We’re welcomed by Siwei, the winemaker, who has been working at Château Auzias-Reifeng for 1 year. She did her DNO (national diploma in oenology) in Montpellier in France before working in Burgundy for Bouchard Père et Fils.
First, we enjoyed a great view on the vines from their terrace. We learned that all the grapes are handpicked at the end of September during two weeks. She also described the climate in Shandong as more temperate than in Ningxia with warmer winter (only -15°C minimum compared to -25°C) and cooler summer. They also get more rain and therefore don’t need to irrigate.
Then, we headed to the winery and had the chance to taste wines directly from tanks. We tried some Chardonnay and Rosé made from Cabernet Franc. The winery was under renovation but still, we got to see how it relies on gravity for the entire winemaking process: they don’t use any pumps. Finally, we visited their cellar with 130 French and American oak barrels that they use up to 4 times. This year, because of all the renovation works, they only bought 10 barrels. We headed to their tasting room and discovered their logo with a big root which is supposed to represent their attachment to the terroir.
In Penglai, we visited Château Junding, a beautiful property with many leisure facilities and had a tasting session with the winemaker. We also quickly visited COFCO - Great Wall, China’s largest wine producer.
story of chateau huadong-parry
Founded in 1985 by the English Michael Parry, the Chateau Huadong-Parry is near Qingdao in Shandong province. Qingdao city is well-known for its famous Tsingtao but also offers great conditions for growing grapes. The Chateau Huadong-Parry mostly produces white wines (52%), from Chardonnay and Riesling, which is quite unusual for a Chinese winery but it matches perfectly with local seafood dishes. They started with 70 hectares but quickly grow to over 700 hectares and admit that they buy grapes from other vineyards in China. The main red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt and Gamay. Every year, they produce around 6 millions bottles. Everything is done by hand in the vineyard and their main issue is to fight against humidity.
We met with Zhang Xin, one of the winemakers that has been working there since 2001. We started our visit in the laboratory with a tasting of wines that will be bottled this year. We tried the Chardonnay 2018 with banana and agrume aromas on the nose, well-balanced with a good acidity as well as the Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 with plums and orange peels aromas on the nose and a nice vanilla and caramel aftertaste. We learned that 100% of their wines is sold domestically, which is usual for Chinese producers.
We also found out that every year, during harvest, they invite Australian winemakers as consultants to help them in their work (15 years ago, it used to be French winemakers but time and taste have changed!). We enjoyed a nice view over the vines from a terrace and then headed to their cellar: every year, they buy 100 new oak barrels from France! Finally, we also discovered their “museum” that attract 10 000 visitors every year and in which the wine elaboration process is explained.