Monday, October 31, 2011

In Search of Undiscovered Wine

In the course of my wondering life, travel has changed. During my first trip to Africa, there was not even satellite phone coverage over the remote areas I visited. For 5 weeks my wife had no idea of my whereabouts or even if I was still alive. But for me, it was the Columbus-like thrill of discovery.

Today much of the world is connected and known. Just Google it. Now I regularly email the chief of the Bediks, a tiny cliff-top Senegalese tribe virtually unknown when I first visited.

So where's the thrill, the adventure of travel today? And for me, where's the excitement of stumbling upon an undiscovered wine, a wine that even Google can't find?

I found it in China.

During September and October I explored all of China's major wine growing regions, (I'm told I'm one of the few if not only Westerner to do so). It was a Columbus-like trip of discovery about terroir, people, culture and myself. It was a travel adventure.
The photo of Beng (Bu) village with it's vineyards hints at the terroir in Yunnan Province near the Tibetan border. At 2000 to 3000 meters (6000-9000 feet), the vineyards in this area are probably the highest in the world. The growing season is Continental-like sunny (3000-3500 heat units); the well-drained soil is gravel, sand, loam and little clay (the whole area was once a lake bottom); and virtually no rain during growing time. Days are warm, nights sweater cool. And the only winery to use all the fruit is Shangrila.

Please note that the lines scribbled across the landscape are both one-car-width gravel roads and human trails.

Wait till I tell you about the wine.

Monday, October 24, 2011

His attitude touched me

I'm doing a book on Chinese Vineyards and Wineries. On this last trip, I traveled all over China to visit wine growing regions. People kept telling me that I'm probably the only Westerner who has actually visited all of China's wine growing regions.

This adventure is in the Yunnan Province, near Tibet.

With my 20 words of Chinese and an overwhelming desire to connect
, I interacted this worker for about one hour. He harvested grapes. Over and over, he carried two baskets at 20 kilos (44 pounds) each of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes up a very steep hill to the loading truck. Hundreds of meters below roiled the muddy Lantsang (also called Lancang and Mekong) river caged in by steep rocky cliffs.

Now I look at the photos and wonder what this worker, about my age, is doing today. Harvest is done. Winter will begin soon. There but for fortune, he could be me. There but for fortune, I could be him.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How do you measure wealth?

These workers harvesting grapes high in the Yunnan mountains get less than 50 cents for picking a 20 kilo (44 pound) basket full of Cabernet Sauvignon.

This guy is carrying three baskets of grapes, each weighing about 20 kilos (44 pounds). He is going up a 60 degree slope. Do the math. Feel your leg muscles.

When it was lunch time, the workers invited me to join them in the shade.So what exactly is wealth? In the USA, for many wealth means things and money. These workers, earning maybe $10 per day during harvest, are willing to share what they have with someone from the "wealthiest" country on our planet. Makes me wonder who is wealthier?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The world's highest vineyards

We are probably about 2500 meters (8200 feet) above sea level in the above photograph. We're not far from the border with Tibet. That is the muddy Lantang River cutting through those sheer rock walls. The thin white line on the middle right–about 100 meters above the rushing river–is the main highway. It's a gravel track about one and one-half car-widths wide. Rock avalanches are frequent. But it's the only road. Yes, you can see it continue up the mountain in the background. All the while we're driving on that highway, I'm hoping our driver doesn't sneeze to distract his concentration.

And those are Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the foreground.

This is harvest in Yunnan Province of China.
This is how you get from one terrace to another. Yes, it's steep here.
Our next vineyard was at about 3000 meters (about 9800 feet). Many outsiders have troubles adjusting to the altitude.

I don't know of any vineyards in the world at a higher altitude than these in the Yunnan Province. And they're growing warm climate varietals: Cab Sauvignon and a little Merlot for a winery appropriately named ShangriLa.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

China and Wine in One Photo?

After a month of visiting all of China's major wine growing regions, this single photo sums up my findings.

premium Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the photo foreground is in the wild wild west province of Xinjian, China's most remote region. Sitting way out in the far west bordering Mongolia and a list of stans including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, most of the province is wide open Taklimakan Desert where the most dangerous portion of the Silk Road winds through the world's largest shifting dunes moon-like landscape. Remote. The capital of the province is the world's furthest city from any ocean.

But, because of the warm summers and well-drained soil, it's a great grape growing region. This vineyard belongs to Citic Guoan Winery (formerly Suntime), which also owns Asia's–if not the world's–largest vineyard spreading out on Xinjian's sandy soil. The area is booming. A couple hundred kilometers from this vineyard near Fukang, sits an oil reserve that is suppose to be larger than anything in the United States. Dozens of Nuclear power plants dot the region like acne on a teenager. Yet in the distance tower incredible snow-capped mountains.

This is the China I experienced in September and October. Things are booming, including the wine industry. More adventures and observations to come.

Is Oregon America's Most Beautiful State?

After just coming back from a month in China, I had to pull some photos for a calendar request. Wow, I feel so blessed to live in such a beautiful area. This is Harris Covered Bridge, built in 1929 over Mary's River in Benton County near Philomath towards Wren.