Monday, May 25, 2015
A Rare Opportunity: A Bottle of 2010 Château Bolongbao from China in Washington DC, USA
Recently at our house in Washington DC, Annette and I drunk - with our daughter Cornelia and son-in-law Chris - a bottle of 2010 Château Bolongbao from Bashimudi in the Fangshan Region, close to Beijing, China. That one drinks an ultra-premium Chinese wine outside of China does not happen that often. But our daughter lives with her family in Beijing and visiting us, our son-in-law Chris brought us this bottle of Chinese ultra-premium wine.
Emerging Wine Country China
China has become the 5th largest wine market in the world (following the US, France, Italy and Germany and ahead of the UK, Argentina, Spain, Australia and Portugal). Annual wine consumption in China has reached 16.8 million hectoliters, compared with 29.2 million hectoliters in the US. China is in the top 10 group of wine consuming countries.
Many people say, China is now there were America was 50 years ago. In the last 50 years, we have seen a wine revolution and boom in America and a lawyer from the Washington DC region - Robert Parker - emerging as the most influential wine critic in the world.
Jancis Robinson (2014): While in Asia last month I was asked when I thought China would produce genuinely world-class wine. I said I thought that on the basis of what I had tasted so far it would probably be within five to 10 years but added semi-facetiously, in a reference to the extraordinary speed with which the Chinese tackle their objectives, that in practice it would probably be three to six years.
Not surprisingly, there is an increasing number of annual wine fairs in China. One wine fair that is rapidly gaining importance is TopWine China in Beijing. In 2014, we had the opportunity to participate in TopWine China during a visit of our daughter in Beijing.
ombiasy PR and WineTours
Germany at TopWine China 2014 in Beijing, China
With less than a liter per year, the Chinese per capita consumption is dismal, but the number of consumers is huge. Thus, overall wine consumption is large. And, per capita consumption is on an upward trend. If the per capita consumption increases just by as much as – for example – the Australian per capita consumption increased between 2007 and 2013, China would become the largest wine market in the world, overtaking the US, France, Italy and Germany.
One of the main features of the China wine market, as supposed to western markets, is the predominance of red over white wine. Around 85 per cent of the wine drank in China is estimated to be red. However, as more Chinese women develop a taste for wine, white wine drinking is expected to rise relative to red wine.
The color red is considered lucky in China and is also affiliated with the Communist government, while white is associated with death and is predominantly seen at funerals.
Schiller s Favorite Winebars in Beijing, 2014, China
There are two market segments. First, the lower end mass wine market. Growth in demand in this market segment --- the easy drinking, low quality cheap wine --- is expected to be high. At 0.4 liters per person a year, wine consumption is still quite low by international comparison. In France, where wine is culturally embedded, people drink 50 liters a year with consumption in Australia, another major wine producing nation, 25 liters and in the United States 15 liters. If China's per capital wine consumption was to only increase slightly because of the scale of the population it could easily shift the center of gravity of the world's wine industry.
Second, the other market segment, where China will be increasingly present is the top wines. Since 2000, expensive red wines, in particular from France, have become very popular in China among the rich and the famous. Red wine, in particular French red wine, has become a symbol of the elite and the rich. Within a decade or so, China’s rich have gone from mixing red wine with Coke to checking Parker points when ordering a wine and being ready to pay top dollars. They have become a major player in the top market segment. The recent austerity and anti-corruption drive of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, however, has led to a marked decline in conspicuous consumption and sales of high-end wine.
The fact that expensive, red wine are more a status symbol and that they are often not consumed privately at home with friends but in public with business partners or given as present, has led to an increased price differentiation of wines depending on the condition of the label in the international market. Bottles with labels that do not meet the highest aspirations and cannot be used as a present for a business partner are suffering a steep discount at auctions or are not sold at all.
ombiasy PR and WineTours, in Beijing in 2014
China has emerged as the fifth biggest wine producer in the world, mainly for domestic consumption, although Chinese wine has started to appear on the shelves of other countries. Wine producer China, where traces of wild wine dating from the second and first millennium BC have been found, is clearly on the fast track. China has a long tradition of producing all kinds of wine, but produced practically no vinifera wine before the economic reforms of the early 1980s.
Jancis Robinson: China undoubtedly has a present and burgeoning future as a wine producer and consumer, but all Chinese wine regions assayed so far have one major disadvantage. They are either, like Shandong on the east coast, so wet in summer that it is a struggle to harvest fully ripe, healthy grapes, or they are so cold in winter, like Ningxia, where Moët Hennessy recently established a sparkling-wine operation, that the vines have to be laboriously buried every autumn to protect them from freezing to death. Quite apart from the damage it can do to vines, the continuing urbanization of China suggests that eventually this may become rather expensive.
Much of the wine industry is run by the Chinese Government. The wine industry is dominated by three giants. Great Wall, Changyu and Dynasty Estates are the big players of China’s burgeoning wine industry.
China’s first winery, the Changyu winery, was established in 1892. It won gold medals in the 1915 World Expo for their Roses and Rieslings. Its cellar is the largest wine cellar in Asia. Changyu puts out a million and a half bottles of wine annually. Dynasty Estates is a joint venture of the state and the French company Remy Cointreau.
Château Lafite Rothschild, partnering with CITIC, China's largest state-owned investment company, is in the process of setting up a winery in China to produce grand cru wines there. The French wine maker plans to plant on 60 acres in the Shandong province. Château Lafite has an extraordinary reputation in China - so much so that the property's second wine, Carruades de Lafite, commands the same price as other first growths.
Apart from the large wineries, the Chinese wine industry is also littered with smaller, privately owned wineries.
China's import wine market is dominated by the French. Over 50 percent of imported wine comes from France. Labels like Château Lafite Rothschild have a cult status among the country's nouveau-riche.
German wines are much less glamorous. Generally, Chinese people do not think of wine when it comes to Germany's finer exports. They think of cars, machines and possibly beer. German winemakers and the German Wine Institute are in the process of changing this. German wine exports to China have increased dramatically in recent years, although from a low base. It is expected that China will soon become the largest wine market in Asia for German wine exports, ahead of Japan.
Most of the wine is produced for the local market. China still has a low profile outside of Asia, but many are watching to see if this industry becomes a global player. Experts predict that China could become the next Chile within a decade – a destination for affordable and quality wine production.
“Greybeard” from the “Reign of Terroir” Blog visited Château Bolongbao and wrote a nice article about his visit. I am quoting from this posting:
Vincent Debien is a long way from home, although that’s nothing new for this young Bordelais. At 26 he already has vintages from Lebanon, Corsica, Bordeaux, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland under his belt (including such names as Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut Brion, Chandon Australia and Cloudy Bay), but for 2010 Debien is helping with the slow realisation of a new major player on the world wine scene at Château Bolongbao, southwest of Beijing, in the Peoples Republic of China.
China is all the rage in the wine world at the moment; from Bordeaux First Growths putting Chinese characters on their bottles or commissioning Chinese artists to design their labels, to record breaking auction prices in Hong Kong. But while Asian wine appreciation may not be a new phenomenon – UK Fine Wine magazine Decanter has been doing a Traditional Chinese edition aimed at Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore etc. for more than 5 years – the idea of fine wine actually made in China is still taking hold in the West even though there is a winemaking history dating back thousands of years although it has only been in the last few decades that have seen a revival). ….
I was in Beijing on business and when my hosts heard about my wine obsession they kindly suggested taking me to a winery near the city. … The winery was started in 2000 with French investment, which seems to be a consistent theme in Chinese winemaking. New vine plantings in 1999 meant the first vintage wasn’t until 2003 with their prestigious Grand Vin from that favorable vintage labelled as Chateau Philippe, but the 2004 and subsequent vintages have all been labelled as Chateau Bolongbao.
The vines spread out over nearly 70ha of land surrounding the winery near the village of Bashimudi, just over an hour’s drive Southwest of Beijing, past Fangshan, and there’s a development plan to purchase and plant more land and expand to as much as 200ha.
Even without M. Debien the French influence is visible all around with the Tricoleur flying proudly alongside the Chinese flag outside, the Bordeaux Oak Barrels scattered in and around the buildings and the grapes themselves; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and, allegedly, a smattering of Petit Manseng (although this was not in evidence when I was there).
Production is limited to about 100,000 bottles a year although that has dropped to nearly 50,000 for the low yielding 2010 vintage, deemed already to be a very good year (potentially the best of the winery’s short life).
With such a limited production Bolongbao doesn’t sell in local stores; apart from visiting the winery itself, getting hold of a bottle requires you to be in their direct sales wine club, in the Duty Free area of the major Chinese airports or, strangely enough, in one of several Parisian Restaurants (again I’m guessing the French Connection at play here). This exclusivity and the winery’s organic status (they’re very proud of the Chinese, European and US organic certification which seems to set it apart from most of its Chinese counterparts ) probably helps explain the high prices of Bolongbao’s wine; their top wine, the 2003 Château Philippe was being sold at the winery for 1880RMB, approximately £200! …
I returned to Beijing with several pages of notes, plenty of camera shots and a bottle of the 2004 [browser would not render characters; see link-Admin] (that’s Cabernet Franc in Chinese characters) for a mere £30 at the cellar door – almost definitely more expensive than the juice inside the bottle warrants but at least affordable compared to the 2003 Château Philippe!
At least one Chinese wine review suggests Bolongbao is overpriced for what it is, but then again, isn’t that the epitome of Bordeaux as well? I suspect an element of status envy is going on here as the wines are mainly red (seen as healthy by the Chinese), exclusive and organic, while the winery is run by the son of a former general (or high ranking politician, I wasn’t sure of the translation). Given the ridiculous prices that top Bordeaux go for in China then I guess it isn’t too surprising a Bordeaux styled Chinese winery can ask, and get, high prices for it’s wines from the notoriously overspending, status symbol seeking Beijing elite.
Tasting a 2010 Château Bolongbao
The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (45%), Merlot (49%), and Cabernet Franc (6%). Black cherry and raspberry notes on the nose, a medium bodied wine with vanilla and clove aromas and well integrated tannins on the palate, good finish.
Here is more interesting background information by “Greybeard” from the “Reign of Terroir” Blog:
Debien … arrived in August to take over the winemaking duties (Bolongbao had a Chinese winemaker up until then) and was thrown straight into the 2010 harvest, which began at the beginning of September with the Estate Merlot, then the Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon throughout September. The summer seems to have been dry with a lot of sunshine, leading to some sunburn on the Chardonnay and uneven ripeness, however, the low yields for the red grapes promise excellent quality.
Merlot was first, about 120 hectolitres (hl), which was first racked after 10 days – sooner than typical as it had good structure. The colour was rich, although Debien admitted he’d needed to do a little Carbonic Maceration to pull extra colour out of the grapes. This was a lot more elegant and lean than I’d been expecting for a Merlot, the tannins weren’t overly harsh for its age and it had a good structure, although lacked body.
Cabernet Franc next, 10 hl in a small tank off to one side – again this was first racked after only 10 days as Debien had concerns about its development. Although the nose was wonderful – heady and vegetal with a touch of acetate – in the mouth the tannins were surprisingly harsh with an ashen aspect, although it had a depth of texture that showed potential. I agreed with Vincent that there was something concerning about where this “was” – should it come together it would make a good wine and great contributor to a blend, but for the moment it was to be kept alone and watched.
Finally the Cabernet Sauvignon which had taken 3 weeks before it was first racked. 240 hl sat in 4 large tanks and had caused some concern at harvest – Debien wanted to wait for full phenolic ripeness while the owners nervously looked skywards for signs of rain (Beijing weather is notoriously unpredictable) as the grapes hung on for much longer than usual. French patience won out but even these ripe grapes are barely expected to reach 14% abv, less than usual at the Château.
This had a closed nose which eventually opened up a little in the glass, with a good structure, firm but relatively fine tannins (compared to the Cabernet Franc) and balanced acidity and fruit.
schiller-wine: Related Postings
Emerging Wine Giant China: Top Wine China 2014, Beijing, China
Germany at TopWine China 2014 in Beijing, China
With the German Wine Princess Sabine Wagner in Beijing, China
Riesling Weeks 2014 in China - A Celebration at the German Embassy in Beijing, China
Western Food and Chinese Wine in a Hutong: Dinner at Chi Restaurant in Beijing, China
China's Wine Boom: Is Jeannie Cho Lee the New Robert Parker?
The Emerging Wine Giant China - Mouton Cadet Bar Opening
Riesling Revolution in China: Weingut Dr. Loosen, Germany, Domaine Hugel et Fils, Alsace and Jim Barry, Australia - China Tour to Promote Riesling
Schiller s Favorite Winebars in Beijing, 2014, China
Trends in the global wine market: old world, new world, emerging wine countries
A Global View: Who Makes and who Drinks Wine?
Wine Consumption by Country: Total and Per Capita
Global Wine Consumption and Production