Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Need Feedback on Creation of Man Image

This is another image from my Africa's Undiscovered Myth series I'm creating for a gallery show in Napa Valley.Here I'm trying to illustrate the Ethiopia's Omo Region Konso tribe story where the first man was born from a termite hill. (Those are termite hills in the background.) To me there are lot of symbols in this story. And doesn't the Bible have Adam formed from mud?

What are your thoughts? Does this image work for you?

Is my baggage preventing me from accepting Chinese Culture??

Is it true as one travel writer espoused: "Traveling, one accepts everything; indignation stays at home?"

This is Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in China's Yunnan province and sometimes referred to as the Little Potala Palace. Built in 1679, it is blessed and cursed by being only 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the tourist city of Shangrila. So Chinese tourists flock to this spiritual site. Check out the wad of visitors climbing the stairs in the right background.

Among the swirling, camera-toting tourists, hundreds of monks try to conduct their lives and spiritual rituals.

Truthfully, I had trouble suppressing an uneasy indignation. Perhaps I'm bringing my own cultural baggage. Yes, tourism financially supports the monastery. But to me the balance between spirituality and tourism was like oil and water.
For some, the monastery was simply a Hollywood prop.

This lady focused her Canon camera on her shoes.

Is my baggage preventing me from accepting the reality of Chinese Culture?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Have you used this wine byproduct?

I had never heard of it until a couple of years ago. One of the executives at China's Chateau Changyu AFIP told me they offered a grape seed oil spa at their European Village. So how do they process those tiny seeds? It must take millions for one spa.
I saw exactly how those seeds were gathered at Pernod Ricard's Helan Mountain winery in Ningxia province. After the winemaker has determined the juice has had enough skin/seed contact, these Cabernet Sauvignon grape skins and seeds are transported on a conveyor belt to this mesh wire tube to separate the skins from seeds.
The seeds are then spread out onto nearby streets to dry.
It's amazing what I learn hanging around Chinese wineries. Not only does Chateau AFIP use it, grape seed oil is actually a preferred cosmetic ingredient for control of skin moisturization. Since it's such a light, thin oil, it leaves a glossy TV-model-ready film on the skin. It's also used in aromatherapy. I've even heard some use grape seed oil as a lubricant for shaving.
But Chinese use it for cooking. Since grape seed oil has a moderately high smoke point, it is ideal for all the high temperature stir-frying cooking done in China.

And these little things actually have health benefits. Grape seeds contain antioxidants and sufficiently high amounts of resveratrol to be extracted commercially. Unfortunately, when cold pressed into an oil, negligible of these other biologically active compound remain.

What do you see in this African Myth Image?

Besides photographing and writing about wine, I'm also working on a large project I call Africa's Undiscovered Myths. For the past 10 years I've gone to the most remote tribes in Africa–because DNA tells us that modern man walked out of that continent–to learn from storytellers, witch doctors, shamans and chiefs about their myths and archetypal dreams. Anthropologists tell me that I'm the only person to have recorded these oral stories. Then I create photo illustrations of those stories.
From the Suri tribe in Ethiopia's Omo region, this is an illustration of Chief Bolagadong's dream where his grandfather told him to take care of the orphans of the tribe. Dreams are very important to these tribes.

I will have a huge gallery show of this work at Napa Valley's Mumm Winery Gallery in March 2012, so I desperately need feedback. The final image will actually be at least 16X20.

What do you see in the image?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What mark will wine today leave on human history?

Cathedral on canal in Venice, Italy.

Last night, one of the guests at a neighbor's dinner party, recently returned from two months in Europe, told of the great Medieval cathedrals he had seen in Germany, Italy and France. Some of the cathedrals had a guilds of skilled craftsmen who maintained the churches. I pondered out loud, what are we creating today that will be seen or felt 900 years from now? Will it just be three story personal yachts?

Immediately Treaty Porty, the Scottish castle winery in China's Shandong province, built by Shanghi-based mutual fund owner Chris Ruffle, came to my mind.

Chris' vision started as a simple sketch on a napkin during a red-eye flight. But that sketch evolved into something much more. Setting aside the Herculean task of working with local contractors and officials to actually build an castle from the surrounding granite, Chris tried to keep a larger vision. He named his hewn solid granite castle Treaty Port, to honor Chinese history of the old nearby treaty ports of Yantai (Cheffo) and Penglai (Dengzhou).

Then the location. It sits on the bottom shoulder of 139-metre Qiushan mountain peak where a climber can see the Yellow and Bohai seas, as well as the infamous NAVA Valley, a name which irks Napa Valley vintners. The name Qiushan is significanct for Daoists as the spot where Qiu Chuji (a famous 14th century Daoist) lead a strict religious life of ascetism and philanthropy. Qiu was outlived by his well-respected school of thought, which he evolved while living at the foot of Qiushan peak. Can you taste Qiu in the wine?

The peak also served as the fort for the Nian Army, a local rebel group, as recently as 1868. So the castle bathes in the light of history.

A Polish artist painted this mural of Chinese history in the main staircase.

The chef in her spacious castle kitchen. Check out the imported red stove and refrig.

What do you think? What will wine leave as a marker for our period in human history?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is this like a Chinese Vineyard in Yosemite?

I couldn't help but post one of the images from this series.
This steeply sloping farmer's vineyard near Yunling (Yunlingxiang) above the Lancang (also called Lantsang, Lansang and Mekong) River, is one of hundreds in northwest Yunnan Province, China. All of these vineyards, hacked out of these steep mountain sides in this region, supply Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes to Shangri-la winery. Single handedly, the Kunming-based "wine brewery" has changed the economy of this high-mountain region bordering Tibet.

When the hour isn't so late, remind me to talk about the wine. Surprising.

Do We All Need to be Strangers?

Part of the joy of travel for me is the chance encounters with billionaires, vineyard workers, CEOs and winemakers. We're all just people, nothing more, nothing less.This guy He was laughing at my attempt at Chinese during harvest at a Huadong Parry winery vineyard near Qingdao (sometimes spelled Tsingtao, a coastal town famous for its beer), Shandong province. Truthfully, he did have cause for laughter.

I'm always amazed at how generous people can be. Here I am snapping with a camera costing perhaps 10 years of this woman's wages and she is offering me grapes. Just the thought makes me hopeful about we little humans.

This photograph was taken just after he hauled up two crates with 66 pounds of harvested Cabernet Sauvignon grapes up a steep mountain. This is in the Gushui Village vineyard above the Lantsang River, Yunnan Province for ShangriLa Winery.
Check out his outfit. This after he had been picking and hauling for half a day. Never did I look this debonair when I picked grapes in Napa. Also look at the ethnic diversity in Yunnan and Xinjiang provinces.

This is winemaker Emma Gao. One day her father, who managed vineyards, thought that they should make their own high-quality wine-something rare in China. He called Emma, who was studying in Russia, to ask if she wanted to make wine. "Yes, Papa." She then went to France, learned French in 4 months and studied winemaking there for four years. Back in China, Emma, with the micro family winery, Silver Heights, has earned a well-respected reputation for their wine. I even hauled a bottle back to the United States to share.

Oh, yes,
her husband, Thierry Courtade, the winemaker at Chateau Calon Segur, and five-year-old daughter, also called Emma, both live in France.

And those towering new apartments in the background are the city of Yinchuan, Ningxia province, englufing the tiny family winery like a tsunami wave.

I like my job.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Would you plant a vineyard in China's Xinjiang province?

Would you plant a vineyard in the scene below? This is my aerial view on the way to visit the largest vineyard in all of Asia. What you see is part of the massive desert in China's far western Xinjiang province, where (according to Wikipedia) only about 4% of province''s land area is fit for human habitation. It is most known for huge sand dunes, the ancient Silk Road, lots of ethnic groups including Uyghur, Han, Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz and Mongol, and Muslim uprisings. The capitol, Wulumuqi (also called Urumqi), is the furthest large city from any ocean on our planet. OK, it's desolate and remote.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,the largest Chinese administrative area, spans over 1.6 million km2 and borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It also has amazing amount of oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region. That's why all of the political unrest. And grape wine has a long history here. Back about 200 BC, when the Han Government dispatched General Zhang Qian to establish good relations with the Middle Eastern countries, the good general brought back vines and wine. I conjecture this was to help with his lengthy journey.
This is harvest in one of the vineyards out in that desert. Yes, that's a real sand dune behind the vineyard. Those snow-capped peaks in the background are a part of a range that separates Xinjiang's two huge desert basins. And did I say that it's perfect-for-growing-watermelons hot in the summer, instant frost-bite cold in the winter and the 50 ~ 150 mm (about 2 to 6 inches) of precipation rarely falls during the flowering and harvest time.
They flood irrigate (with water from the snowy mountains), the soil drains well but the vines have to be buried for the winter to insulate against bitter cold. Since the vines are on their own root stock, if the vines do die even when buried, they will sprout back up from the root. No phylloxera. Overall, these are perfect wine grape growing conditions. That's why the region's Citic Guoan Wine Company (formerly Suntime) not only produces for their own long list of labels but also for most of the major wineries in the rest of China.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Airline cuisine on Chinese Domestic Flights

So I ended up taking 8 Domestic Flights in one month during this last trip to China, all on Chinese airlines. On most of the flights we received a small bottle of water. Here's the fare on a 3 and 5 hour flight.

* As a footnote, all of the airplanes seemed very new. But I kept wondering how safe the domestic flights will be in 10 years as the aging planes demand more maintenance?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Beijings Famous Tax Waiting Area

Can you guess what this sign just out of the baggage area at Beijing's airport is suppose to say?
But then I can't read most of the Chinese characters.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ever hear of Rose Honey Wine?

My first encounter with Rose Honey was behind a church.

But no ordinary
church this. First, it's a Roman Catholic church in China, where Christians huddled in fear under Mao's Communists. It probably survived that period because it's in the very remote village of Cizhong on the steep banks of the Lancang (Lantsang, Lansang, Mekong) River, in Yunnan Province near the Tibetan border. (How remote is this place? Originally, I was told that I could not visit CiZhong because the road was under construction. It was, but I insisted. So we drove over gravel threads hacked out of rock slides 1000-2000 feet above the rushing muddy river below. If the driver would have sneezed and jerked the wheel, we would have ended floating down the river all the way to Vietnam.)

Anyway, the church was built by French missionaries at the end of 19th century, incinerated by irate Tibetans, then rebuilt around 1905. Being normal French, the missionaries planted grapes to make wine. So the vines still survive behind the church.

While locals make wine from this fruit, I've heard that Yunnan Red Wine Company makes a Rose Honey red wine.
I even read that Jancis Robinson’s 2008 appraisal of The Rose Honey: it's perhaps a little sweet to drink with food, but it’s a perfectly good entry-level wine.

(Above) Rose Honey grapes.(Above) These vines are descendents from the originals planted by the French missionaries in the late 1800s behind the now-historic CiZhong Roman Catholic church.
Below) Today the church is nearly surrounded by farmer-grown Cabernet Sauvignon vines, with all of the fruit destined for Shangrila Winery.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I didn't deduct China from my time on earth.

Somewhere I read that the best travel seems to exist outside of time.
This last China Wine trip was like that. It's as if the month of travel was not deducted from my time on earth.
(Above) Way out in the remote western Xinjiang province, this is the Cossack ethnic neighborhood of Wulumuqi (Urumqi), the Province's capitol city. The whole town had the non-sleep energy of Las Vegas, but times 10. Time, however, can throw a tired traveler. Since the central government declares that all of China is to be on the same Beijing time, and Xinjiang is about 4 time zones to the West, dinner and night life don't begin here until about 10:00PM (Beijing time). Like Vegas, a peek at Google Earth reveals that the town sits like an oasis surrounded by huge sand dunes.

(Below) Out on the main street of Fukang, Xinjiang, we chose our food from the table and watched the husband and wife chefs cook it. Never heard of Fukang? Well, a 1003 kg meteorite crashed near here in 2000, it's a booming oil town sitting near what is reported to be more black gold reserves than the entire United States. And, for me, a branch of Citic Winery (formerly Suntime) has a massive wine factory and huge vineyards–like green islands in the sandy desert–on the outskirts of town.