Silver Heights…New Artisanal Chinese Boutique “Micro-Winery”
on 18/07/11 at 6:59 amWine
Recently referred to as “a hard-working woman who knows how to make wine” by the Chinese writer and critic Chantal Chi, Silver Heights proprietor Emma Gao (高源) is one of a small but dedicated group of winemakers creating artisanal Chinese wine that goes against the country’s reputation for “quantity over quality”. Known as China’s first boutique “micro-winery”, Silver Heights currently produces around 800 cases of wine per year at its roughly five-acre vineyard on the eastern slopes of Mount Helan in China’s northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. There, at the family-run winery, the Bordeaux-educated Gao has spent the last four years producing a selection of reds that she hopes can confidently stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those from California or Australia. Already, Gao has found favor with the wine distributor Torres China, which carries Silver Heights in its portfolio, and among wine critics like Lisa Perrotti-Brown, who scored Gao’s 2007 Summit a respectable 82 earlier this year.
Recently, Jing Daily exchanged an email Q&A with Emma Gao, covering a range of topics from what sets Silver Heights apart from other Chinese wineries to how best to pair her wines with Chinese cuisine. (Translated from the original Chinese by Alicia Wang and Wang Xiayu)
Jing Daily (JD): Can you give us a little background about your company, in terms of production capacity and types of wines currently in production?
Emma Gao (EG): The current annual production of Silver Heights is 10,000 bottles. Among these, we produce 3,000 bottles of ”The Summit”, 3,000 bottles of “Family Reserve” and 4,000 bottles of “Val Enchantee”.
JD: You studied winemaking in Bordeaux, and now produce Bordeaux-influenced wines. With the popularity of French Bordeaux wine among Chinese wine drinkers, do you find this Bordeaux connection to be a major selling point for Silver Heights wines?
EG: Yes. Like other countries around the world, the Chinese tend to get to know wine through Bordeaux. Cabernet Sauvignon is grown all over China, but Ningxia gets 3,200 hours of annual sunshine, which is perfect for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. One of the reasons we’ve gotten attention is because we’re one of the few wineries in China to have just the right conditions to make a traditional Cabernet Sauvignon wine.
Unlike Bordeaux’s mild oceanic climate, where grapes have a longer growing period that makes for a more complex wine with a lingering aftertaste, Ningxia has an extreme continental climate. We’re at an altitude of 1,200 meters with huge temperature shifts between day and night. During the winter, the grape vines are buried underground and the grapes have a shorter growing period. Usually, wine made under such conditions tastes less complex and has a shorter aftertaste. But the wine we make is full-bodied and spicy, with blackberry notes and hints of mineral.
At the University of Bordeaux, I slowly digested everything I learned from my textbooks and put it into practice to try and make great wines. Luckily, the large vineyard my father used to manage provided me with high-quality grapes.
So if grapes are the father of our wines, the Bordeaux Berger oak barrels we use are the mother. Our 12-month fermentation and aging schedule is extremely important [to the wines].