Australian winemaker Willie Lunn brings cool-climate wine to China. Photos Provided to China Daily
While names like Bourdeux and Champagne are familiar to even the most casual of wine drinkers, Australian wines from the Yarra Valley is making inroads into the Chinese market. Belle Taylor reports.
Winemaker Willy Lunn is holding court in the Writers Room at Beijing's Raffles hotel. A chandelier sparkles overhead, a piano tinkles in the background, but all eyes are on the Australian in blue jeans and an open collar shirt, who looks like he'd be more at home by the farm gate than in a swish hotel.
"It's what I like to call a wine journey," Lunn tells the table of wine and lifestyle journalists clutching glasses of Yering Station Estate Pinot Noir.
"The wines should taste like where they were grown, not like who they were made by," he continues, as the journalists, all wine and lifestyle reporters, sniff, sip and spit the Pinot, a delicate wine with plum and black cherry flavors, which pair well with duck.
Lunn's "wine journey" takes place in the Yarra Valley, about an hour's drive from Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria. It's a cool climate area, perfect for growing Pinot, which Yering Station is famous for.
The tasting at the Raffles not only included the excellent Chardonnay and Pinot produced at the winery - the reserve bottles of which are possibly some of the best examples of the varieties grown in Victoria, but also excellent Shiraz Viogner and Cabernet Sauvingon.
Lunn explains that the wines produced at Yering Station reflect whereabouts in the Yarra Valley the grapes were grown and under what conditions - whether they were grown on the hill which enjoys direct sunlight, or in the lower parts of the Valley. When they were picked and what the rainfall was like in the year they were grown are all factors that influence the final product.
Chatting after the tasting, Lunn says the importance of regionality is something Australian wine makers are eager to get across to Chinese tastemakers.
"In Australia and Europe we will talk about regionality. In Asia you have to say, 'look, we're from Australia', 'oh, they make wine?' That's the first barrier," says Lunn.
"And then to try to talk about the Yarra Valley and the middle and the upper is a bit specific. The whole regionality thing is important but you have to do it in baby steps, you have to get people drinking wine and then get them drinking Australian wine, and the more comfortable you feel about wine the more you're going to explore."
While the names Bourdeux and Champagne might be familiar to even the most casual of wine drinkers, the Yarra Valley has some way to go to develop that same recognition factor, which is why Lunn visits China about once a year to host tastings, meet with hotel chefs and generally press the flesh with anyone of influence in the Chinese wine industry.
Yering Station is one of many Australian wineries that see massive potential in the Chinese market and want to be on the ground floor as China develops a taste for wine.
Yering Station wines are already sold throughout South East Asia and Lunn says he has witnessed a growing interest in wine in Asia over the past five years and he thinks tastes will continue to grow as food and wine matching becomes more popular.
"In Europe and Melbourne, Pinots are big but in Thailand, Cabarnet Sauvingnon is our biggest selling wine. The bigger reds are the most popular (in Asia) and I reckon over time that will change because (Chinese) food is perfect for the late mineral Chardonnays and delicate Pinots."
As the summer approaches in the city, a glass of the cooler climate wines might suit to the spicy saltiness of local cuisine.