Sunday, July 27, 2014

Vineyard Light: Where is your seat on our tiny spaceship?


We travel huddled on a tiny spaceship hurtling through vast darkness.
                    Found in Janis Miglavs' Vineyard Journal


Morning clouds hover over Zerba Cellar's Cockburn Farm vineyard near Milton-Freewater in the Walla Walla AVA, Oregon. Considered rising star on the global wine stage, Walla Walla is in south eastern Washington, yet some of the best vineyards in the Walla Walla AVA are actually in Oregon. Owners Cecil and Marilyn Zerba have tasting rooms in both Milton-Freewater and Dundee, Oregon.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Vineyard Light: Meet the former Director of the Universe.


 Philippe Girardet, Owner, Girardet Winery, Roseburg, Oregon
"If you are a perfectionist, the grape can drive you crazy."

Born and raised in Switzerland near the headwaters of the Rhone, Philippe Girardet grew up working in his great uncle’s vineyard. He immigrated to the USA to work as a design engineer at Cal Tec in the 1960’s. There he met and married Bonnie, who also happened to like European wines. While on a vacation in Oregon the two wandered into Umpqua Valley, where they decided to plant a vineyard and build Girardet Wine Cellars.


"Grapes want to be wild, you know. Perfection is a nice goal but you have to get perspective. There is a point that you have to let go, let life take its course. 

"I resigned my post as director of the universe."


A hen house on wheels parked in the 35 acre estate vineyard provides a hint that the Girardets use sustainable farming methods.  While there are at least 14 different varietals in the vineyard,  Philippe likes to brag about his Old Vine Baco Noir.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Video: Imagine a Napa Valley in this Ningxia China desert

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This panoramic video shows a 180 degree view standing at the edge of the Ningxia Wine Cultural Corridor road.

All of this virgin desert at the base of Helan Mountain in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China, is scheduled to become vineyards. Obviously, this area  will need to be heavily irrigated to produce the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in this up and coming Ningxia Helan Mountain wine region. Will this become a Napa Valley wine route?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Is this dusty Ningxia wine region road a mirage or a future Napa-like wine route?

 Day 8 of my Ningxia revisit found me alongside a dusty winding ribbon of newly laid concrete called the Helan Mountain Grape Culture Corridor along side of Helan Mountain Range (also called Helanshan, meaning 'fine horse' in Mongolian. The mountains separate Inner Mongolia from Ningxia Province).

This is what I saw of the Helan Mountain Grape Culture Corridor when I visited in June 2014. The whole scale makes the Egyptian pyramids look like children's Tinker toys. And the investment is even more staggering. For example, the government spent millions of dollars installing an Israeli-designed drip irrigation system just for those scraggly trees lining the road. Helan Mountain Grape Culture Corridor with Helan Mountain in the background, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.

With a name like Helan Mountain Grape Culture Corridor, I could only think that the Ningxia government and wineries dream of becoming a touristy Napa Valley wine route. (Even though the climate is quite different, I kept thinking of how the Penglai region in  Shandong Province called itself NAVA Valley. The name made Napa Valley wine officials quite steamy since it sounded like Napa.)

However, the scale of the Ningxia Wine Corridor makes Napa Valley AVA look like a gentleman’s backyard vineyard. A couple of knowledgeable Ningxia winemakers told me that by 2020, expansive plans call for 1 million mu of planted vineyards (that's about 164,737 acres or 66667 hectares). For those counting, that's about five times the total land—not just vineyards—making up Napa AVA. 

Since the government has declared the grape industry as one of the six pillar industries in Ningxia province, the investment is astounding, as is the expected return. We're talking achieving 100 billion RMB in output in less than 10 years. And jobs, while often flowery, government reports claim the area will create 100,000 jobs. (With a magnifying glass, count the number of workers planting vines in the second photograph below.)

Check out these photographs. Could this dusty with construction Ningxia wine region be the beginning of a new world-class wine tourist region or a dusty desert mirage?


Those little dots at the bottom of the photograph, well, those are workers planting vines in virgin soil that has never seen agriculture before. And yes, that is a real desert dust storm at the base of the 2000 meter-high Helan Mountain range. Ningxia Helan Mountain East Wine Region, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.

The sign makes the Helan Mountain Grape Cultural Corridor official in three languages, Chinese, English and Arabic for the Muslim population in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.

Since the Ningxia is considered by some wine writers China's most promising wine region, Chinese and foreign wineries flock to the area. This optimistic sign pictures the future hopes of a French winery which has planted a vineyard near the Helan Mountain Grape Cultural Corridor. Note that the portion of Helan Mountain range in the background looks like the profile of a sleeping former chairman Mao Zedong, who supported the grape wine industry so that people would not use  food crops to make alcoholic drinks.  Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.

See those thin black lines leading from tree to scraggly tree, that's a sophisticated Irraeli-designed drip irrigation system the government spent millions of dollars installing along the Helan Mountain Grape Cultural Corridor road. Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.

One Ningxia government brochure boasted that the Helan Mountain Grape Cultural Corridor will be the largest grape culture corridor in China. The area will include dozens of new chateaux, entire yet-to-be-built wine towns, scenic carved stone walls (perhaps just like those the Chinese built in Napa Valley one hundred years ago), educational wine museums, expansive tourist resorts and the list goes optimistically on and on. Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.

First Story Project: I faced a drunk, agitated, gun-totting Mursi who wanted money.


Mursi warrior with the ubiquitous AK 47 and wooden stool, Omo region, Ethiopia. Note the scarification on his arm. The Ethiopian government tried to outlaw scarification as it could be a badge of honor showing how many people from another tribe he has killed.

You might have read: the Mursi tribe is the fiercest of Ethiopia’s Omo tribes. I’ve heard some tourists are afraid to visit them, or stay only for a short time. I simply wanted to confirm the myths, stories and archetypal dreams I heard from elders, shamans, chiefs, witchdoctors and storytellers on previous visits to the tribe.


On this trip I decided to stay in remote Belle Village, which had a huge picture-perfect mountain in the background.  Then came lengthy discussions—sometimes not so friendly, to negotiate a camping fee for our week’s stay for my guide, driver and me.

Mursi tribe Belle village in Mago National Park, Omo region, Ethiopia.

Everything was going great. But toward the end of our time in the village, the Mursi—men and women—started drinking village-made spirits. In the morning the would-be chief staggered over to demand I pay more, five times more than what we had agreed upon. Naturally, I smiled, told him what a great chief he was and replied, “No.”


The next night the Mursi were drinking again and making lots of noise. Not able to sleep, I worried what would happen in the morning when we were scheduled to leave. All these drunken Mursi carried loaded AK47s. And they wanted more money.

After we packed our camping gear in the morning, I told the belligerent chief that I would pay him away from the village, about 100 meters down the dusty road. I didn't want intoxicated gun-toting Mursi warriors becoming agitated for any reason. 

Frankly. I was a bit surprised that the usually arguementative chief agreed.

As I watched Andu, my guide, lead the wobbling chief down the trail away from the camp, I thought to myself, "Paying the unarmed chief alone, away from the others, is probably the best decision I've made today."


My guide Andu leads the the drunk chief alone out of the village as I had asked. I didn't want a bunch of  drunk gun-toting warriors becoming agitated when I paid the money we had agreed upon.

When I handed the money to the chief, he was too inebriated to count the the stack of dirty and torn birr notes. Having no one else, he asked my guide in the back seat to count the payment. Obviously he didn't really trust my guide either.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Architecture: Photographing the different.

The deck,  complete with fire pits, bar and big screen TV, is built over the parking area at Platform 14 Apartments in Hillsboro, Oregon.
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Part of the fun in photographing architecture is working with a project that is different.  Lately I’ve been photographing lots of apartment complexes, wineries around the world and the world’s largest mosque built from mud. 


The Great Mosque in Djenné, Mali, is the largest mud brick building in the world and is considered by many architects to be the greatest achievement of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style, obviously with Islamic influences. For scale, check out the person in the center of the photograph.
Guess the location of this chateau? France? No. If you guessed China, you are correct.  I had to include these vineyard workers with their traditional straw "Chinese" hats to clue the Western viewer that this is Chateau Changyu AFIP Global winery, one hour out of Beijing, China. This is one of the wineries featured in my new China The New Wine Frontier book.

Chateau Gevrey-Chambertin on the edge of Gevrey-Chambertin village, Burgundy, France. Many traditional French moaned when a Chinese businessman bought this run down, but important village landmark, even though he promised to restore the building.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Vineyard Light: Why build a stone chapel in your vineyard?


"The vine represents life." 
Mike Sauer, grape grower, Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley AVA, Washington, USA



Mike Sauer, grape grower, Red Willow Vineyard, Wapato, Washington, USA. Red Willow Vineyard is part of a 4th generation family farm.

"There is a cooperation between the vine and humanity. In Catholicism at the Eucharist, the priest says, “The fruit of the vine and work of the hands.”

"One of our grapes makes the communion wine at our little reservation parish here in White Swan. So when I go to church, it somehow comes back to me this is the fruit of the vine and our hands are involved in producing this."
         Mike Sauer, grape grower.

 

Red Willow Vineyard, with its stone chapel, sits in the far western end of Yakima Valley AVA, within the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Red Willow Vineyard is one of Washington's oldest and most famous vineyards. The state's first Syrah was planted here in 1985. The vineyard is located in Yakima Valley AVA, which is the oldest, largest and most diverse wine growing region in Washington state.
Small stone chapel on top of Mike Sauer's Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley AVA,  Washington.