The Art of Wine: Meet Boutique Winemaker Zhang Jing

“Wine is a fluid art, a philosophy,” says Zhang Jing, co-founder and winemaker of Helan Qingxue Vineyard, a boutique winery that won International Wine of the Year in the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2011. “Some wines have soul. You can feel it. Over the years, I realized winemaking is more art than technique. So, I decided to become a wine artist, not a wine technician.”
Jing is influencing the Chinese wine industry from her small vineyard in the “Bordeaux of the East,” a region at the eastern foothills of the snow-capped Helan Mountain in China’s Ningxia province. Once a desert, the area has transformed into a sea of grapevines over the past decade.

What’s more impressive, in 2011, with only six years in the business, she managed to produce a wine that brought home the prestigious international trophy without the help of a foreign consultant.

Chinese Ink Painting of Helan Qingxue Vineyard

Chinese Ink Painting of Helan Qingxue Vineyard

For Jing, it’s all about artistry and quality. And respect for the grape. “It is faith,” she says. “In 1949, Chinese experts had already identified Ningxia as a premium wine region. They believed China was able to produce world-class wines.”

In 2011, by winning the highest award ever won by a Chinese winery with her Jia Bei Lan Grand Reserve 2009, Jing proved them right. Apart from her obvious talent, she credits her success to her mentor Li Demei, wine expert and columnist for DecanterChina.com, as well as the Old World winemakers who inspired her.

Jing recalls the retired French wine experts who helped local winemakers and how they would experiment with tastes. She remembers how, while on a trip to Gaja Winery in Italy, the Italian grandfathers shared their philosophy that wine is a “living thing,” and they discussed how bees and butterflies add to the health of the vines.

Jia Bei Lan Reserve 2014

Enjoy a bottle of Jia Bei Lan Reserve 2014

Today, China has become one of the world’s biggest wine markets as well as producers. But, while the majority of Chinese wineries were focusing on technical precision and mass production, Helan Qingxue, plus a handful of other boutique wineries, were instead becoming involved in the true spirit of winemaking, from mimicking classic Bordeaux to exploring new varieties and native grapes.

Jia Bei Lan Baby Feet Pinot Noir 2015 is a fine example of this movement. This not-for-sale vintage, originally made to celebrate the birth of Jing’s daughter, was discovered by renowned wine critic Jancis Robinson and later listed in The World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition. Ever since, Baby Feet has become known for its experimentation with new blends.

Thanks to winemakers like Zhang Jing, a collection of Chinese boutique wines has left a mark on the international stage. She looks forward to the day when Chinese wines will be featured on wine lists around the globe, especially her own label: Jia Bei Lan.

Apart from those made by Helan Qingxue, some other Chinese vintages worth a toast are by Kanaan Winery, Martin Winery, Chateau Rongzi, Grace Vineyard and Tiansai Vineyards. Cheers!

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