The rising of the Chinese wine women
By Denise Cosentino & Alessio Fortunato
View of vineyards of Grace Vineyard winery, Shanxi, one of the best wine producers from China.
China now has the second-largest vineyard area worldwide, as the wine industry advanced and spread, the number of women involved in the wine is rising as well, with women covering different role from wine educators to owners, managers and of course winemakers!
Thirty years ago, few women were working in the wine industry. This was partly due to a cultural misconception whereby if women make wine this would become vinegar and partly due to the very low women education’s level. Today things have changed and even if the industry is still dominated by male especially in a leader position, more and more women are entering the wine world. Women are becoming an integral part of the wine industry in every aspect as consumers, educators, owners, managers, winemakers and surely, they will play a critical and important role in the development of wine in China.
Zhou Shuzhen is an independent winemaker working in the Chinese wine industry since 1983. She became the first female national wine judges, national wine taster, and national winemaker in 2005. She loves to make smooth, lively white wines, rich, full-bodied, and complex red wines. “Wine goes beyond national boundaries, beyond language -she said- no matter which country you come from, who you are, wine closes the distance between each other and makes it easy to read each other's feelings, and making friends all over the world.” Zhou Shuzhen’s wines received accolades both at home and abroad. One of the most exciting wine she drunk is Campo Viejo Reserva 2008 “a wine with perfect structure and body, velvet tannic, combining ripe fruit and intense vanilla aroma with an endless aftertaste.”
Huining Zhang is the winemaker of Chateau Rongzi in Shanxi province. Inspired by the perfectionism of Mme Bize-Leroy, she aims to make delicate and elegant wines that shall be structured rather than strong, be balanced and full rather than rich and complex. “It is not easy to be a winemaker in China -she tells- the biggest challenges are vineyard management, grape quality control and the contradiction between winemakers and farmers made by the system of land ownership in China. Furthermore, the development of the Chinese wine market is difficult due the large influx of foreign wines and consumers’ irrational consumption.” The most exciting wine she drunk was a Richebourg by Domaine Gros Frere & Soeur.
Zhang Jing is the Co-owner and winemaker of Jia Bei Lan Winery in Ningxia. She went to France's Rhone Valley for her wine training, she then worked briefly for the Domaine Franco-Chinois in Hebei and for a winery in Australia. Winemaker should have a high sense of responsibility and passion she said. “Wine is a perfect combination of nature and people and winemaker’s passion and thoughts can be found from his wines.” Chinese wine’s promotion is also important for Zhang Jing and winemakers should have good communication skills to be also good wine promoters. In 2013, she was awarded winemaker of the year in the RVF Chinese wine awards.
Emma Gao is the Owner and Head Winemaker at Silver Heights Vineyard in Ningxia. Her feeling for winemaking stems in large part from her deep knowledge of the complex geological and social terroir of northern Ningxia. She used the term "social terroir" to refer to Ningxia's ethnically mixed population, but it also applies to the support of business partners and customers who have become close friends. “Each year, friends of Silver Heights - both in Ningxia and from all around China - come to help sort and crush grapes, making our wines the work of many human hands but all bound together in a spirit of harmony.” Her motto is every road leads to Rome; i.e. there are many paths to a result! “Don’t be too fixated on one particular way of doing things; always keep yourself open to other possibilities”.
The wine Professors
Wang Hua is the Dean of the first Enology College founded in China in 1994 at the NWSUAF University in Shaanxi and among the first wine scholars. “The establishment of the Wine University College was and is still very important to the development of the Chinese wine industry: 21 years ago there wasn’t any wine’s course, today we offer a complete study program from winemaking to wine marketing, and we also provide training for winery owners and consumers”. Following the model of education-industry-research, her college has more the 2,000 students, 70% of whom are girls, and boasts international cooperation with universities in both US and Australia.
Ma Huqin is Wine Professor at China Agriculture University in Beijing and assistant to the director of the Ningxia Bureau of Grape Industry Development. “When I entered the wine industry in the 1980s -she tells- wine was not really part of Chinese life. Most of the wine was not made by 100% grape juice, it was rather a mix of water, sugar and other things, a sort of sweet and sour beverage. Both the industry and consumers did not know about wine and its quality. In the last 25 years, there has been a big change and improvement with a lot of international communication in both wine production and wine tasting consumption.” In addition, the women education’s level is highly improved in the last 30 years and 75% of her students in Beijing are female.
The wine entrepreneurs
Judy Chan is the President of Grace Vineyard, the first family-owned winery in China. She oversees the entire process of winemaking, from grape growing, wine making and bottling, sales and marketing, to strategic planning. Talking about wine business in China, she said “In the past, the people who bought wine didn't consume it; they bought it to build relationships. Now many of the buyers are the consumers. They are looking for value, they want to know the brand story and have a connection with the winery, feel that human touch beyond a bottle of wine”. Her winery is considered as one of the best wine producers from China and Judy is determined to bring it to the next level by continuing to improve the quality of wine and to strengthen the brand. “My only wish- she said- is to see my guests enjoy the vintage with bright smile and joy on the face deeming China’s vintage as a fine wine. She was named Asian Wine Personality of The Year 2012 by the Drinks Business and the Institute of Masters of Wine.
Wang Yanhui is the Owner of Chateau Bacchus one of the first boutique wineries of Ningxia. “At the beginning more than 20 years ago wine culture in China was very weak and it wasn’t so common for a woman working in the wine industry. Now, Chinese women not only become wine consumers but they are deeply involved in the development of the wine industry.” She is passionate about art and music and her winery has a music hall where she loves to host concert as promotional activities for her wines.
Yuanyuan is the manager of Ningxia Zhihui Yuanshi Chateau. After a graduation in tourism management, she joined the family business in 2015. “In recent years, more and more young people especially women choose to work into wine. Only in Ningxia have been many excellent entrepreneurs and winemakers. Their dedication and passion to wine have to be a part of terroir here.” She is an open minded and meticulous young woman, who would like to enjoy every moment that working with the wine will set aside for her in the future.