Art de Vivre II
Another installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything
Benjamen and Mathilde continue exploring the intersection between France and China over wine. In this installment they traverse China talking with winemakers, wine enthusiasts and drinkers to find out what the emerging middle class of China, one of the most powerful forces on Earth, wants from a bottle of wine. Plus Your host is forced to defend his working methods and his beliefs in the art of living well.
Wine doesn’t taste as it seem
Luckily they wandered off into a hutong of Beijing and stumbled across a wine tasting in action. At XiaoJu wine bar they joined the bar owner Imre Toth and his assistant Ben in the courtyard.
Imre has lived in China for almost two decades, he tells us about his hobby in renovating old Chinese courtyards and his love of wine. XiaoJu wine bar is the where all the things Imre likes come together.
Ben is a level 1 student in the WSET wine course (A four level qualification program in wine and spirits.) He moved to Beijing on a whim and he struggled to find a job that he liked. When an Irish painter he met while waiting tables told him he wanted to paint his face, Ben’s life changed for the better...
Jim Boyce is a wine blogger who lives in Beijing, he’s known for his website Grape wall of China as well as the blind wine tasting The Grape Wall of China Challenge he hosts — the goal is to build consumer confidence in China for the general public.
“They have no problem arguing to their death about who makes a better Peking Duck. You don’t need any experts to tell you that, and it’s the same with wine.”
Hélène Ponty has been working in China selling wine from her family’s winery- Ponty winery.
She has been trying to convince her father that in order to sell their wine, the effort goes beyond just making good wine.
Hélène has simplified her family’s wine to just one name- Ponty, instead of five French Chateau names that no one can remember.
French Village, Beijing
In the outskirts of Beijing, Changyu Pioneer Wine Company has built an European village. Benjamen and Mathilde went on a tour and there they saw a fake boutique, a café, and even a church — the lady told them it’s not really a church. Eventually they found themselves in a room tasting wine with the company’s winemaker where they attempt to understand more about ChangYu’s winemaking philosophy.
In this fake village they perhaps have found more truth than they expected.
WeChat with winemakers
NingXia is where a lot more Chinese vineyards are located, but the idea of going to a small village with no plan was just too ridiculous... Instead, your hosts tracked down a few of the winemakers they would have visited on WeChat — the Chinese voice chat platform.
Emma Gao from Silver Heights winery spoke to us in all three languages- English, French and Chinese during the WeChat interview.
Another NingXia winemaker Wu Hong-Fu from LeiRenShou winery spoke to us about his philosophy about his grapes and how he sees them like human. “Spoiled and pampered grapes cannot produce good wine”
Dream of a good life
Your hosts did make it to a vineyard before their journey came to an end. Chateau Bolongbao sits not too far away from Beijing, there aren’t fancy French castles on their land but they met a winemaker named Fei Xue who is the french trained winemaker of the domain. Fei told them about the difficulties they have to face as wine growers, that were planted in this area have trouble surviving the dry cold winters.
Fei’s dream is to traverse China and find a little plot for a small production and make the best wine in China.
After Fei’s interview he invited the two hosts out back to taste some of his wine. As this series winds down, Benjamen and Mathilde found themselves in a very pleasant afternoon in good company.
Thanks to everyone we spoke to in China: Alessia Amighetti, Olivier Richaud and Christophe Salin from Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), Jim Boyce of The Great Grape of China, Nicolas Carre, Wen Chunguang from Château Changyu AFIP, Julien David Le Petit, Bertrand and Aurore Devillard from Château de Chamirey, Emma GAO from Silver Heights Vineyard, Wu Hong-Fu from Lei-Ren-Shou winery, Liu Ian, Fei Xue and Liu Jingjing from Bolongbao vineyards, Hélène Ponty from Ponty winery, Robert Tinlot, Imre Toth and Ben from Xiao Ju Wine Bar.