China may soon be the world’s biggest producer of wine. In his father’s hometown, a prominent architect — and unlikely winemaker — sees a new Napa.
When Ma Qingyun visits Yushan, a rural town an hour outside of Xi’an, in China’s Shaanxi province, he travels in a chauffeured black Mercedes-Benz. His car speeds eastward along the newly paved roads, past fields of corn and wheat, the color of which, depending on the season, falls somewhere along a gradient of green to gold. He knows he is nearing his destination when the rugged outline of the Qinling Mountains begins to fill the frame of the passenger window, and the sky, a brownish blue even on Xi’an’s better days, suddenly, almost imperceptibly, clears up.
On an autumn day last year, farmers in Yushan laid their freshly harvested corn out to dry in front of their houses, while fruit and vegetable vendors hawked their produce along the dusty roads. The smell of freshly steamed buns and cold-skin noodles wafted from a nearby cluster of street stalls. A stray dog watched as an elderly woman hacked at a pile of wood cuttings in front of her family’s garage-door convenience shop.
When Ma was a child in the 1970s, the journey from Xi’an used to take the better part of a day. He and his brother, Jianchao, spent time every summer in the village where their father grew up, and would wait for a bus that came once daily. After they arrived in Yushan, they would walk to their family’s houses, about 18 miles away, stopping at various relatives’ homes for hot water or food.
Ma’s father had spent most of his life working as a tailor in a state-owned factory in Xi’an, but after Ma moved to Beijing to attend the prestigious Tsinghua University, his father began making the journey back to his village more regularly; he wanted to spend his retirement away from city life, drinking baijiu, a local grain alcohol, with his two brothers.
For years, the question of who would inherit which of their two houses in the village hung over the family. But in 1997, Ma, now one of China’s most well-known architects and the dean of the University of Southern California School of Architecture, had an idea. “Let’s just build a new one,” he told his father. “Let’s not even think about these old houses in the village.” Ma had recently left his job at Kohn Pedersen Fox in New York to set up his own design firm, MADA s.p.a.m, in Shanghai. He’d always dreamed of building a house for his father, and had sketched out his ideas on long international flights. The house he envisioned was unlike any of the other structures in the village, though it felt native in its own way.
When his father accepted the offer, Ma hired 20 villagers to collect stones from small creeks nearby. They separated the stones by color — shades of gray, white, and beige — and piled them up near the construction site. Once workers had completed the frame, they used these stones to build the exterior walls. Inside, Ma lined the walls with honey-colored woven-bamboo boards.
During the four years he spent working on the Stone House (or “the temple,” as locals began to refer to it), Ma visited the village every month for one or two weeks at a time. He began to look at the landscape differently: the gentle, rolling hills, the branching river, the looming mountains. It reminded him of Tuscany, where he’d spent time on a fellowship after graduate school, and of Napa Valley, which he’d visited while road tripping across the United States. Ma was not an experienced wine drinker — he’d tasted it for the first time at a graduate-student reception only seven years earlier — but he knew that both of these regions were known for their wines.
One day during construction, Jianchao mentioned that he had heard of a young man in the village who had started growing grapes in his yard. A thought occurred to Ma: “If everywhere in the world that has wine looks like this, then this place should have wine, too.”
“I think everyone is drinking a little slow!” Ma shouts, calling out above the commotion of the 40 or so guests sitting around the banquet table. He stands up, raises his glass of rosé, and points it toward two friends seated at the end. “Xiao Nan, drink up,” he commands. “Frank!”
“How about we chug the first glass?” Frank Fu, a Shanghai-based venture capitalist, suggests, holding up his full wineglass and looking around. Laughs ripple among Ma’s guests, unsure if the suggestion is serious. Ma nods and laughs. “Sure!” Fu clinks glasses with his neighbors before tilting his head back and downing the wine. A few of the other guests join in.
If Ma is annoyed by their behavior, he doesn’t show it. It’s a scene that he’s gotten used to in the 15 years since he decided to make wine in his father’s village. Baijiu is still the most popular alcohol in China (and accounts for about 38 percent of worldwide alcohol consumption), but the past few decades have seen a rapid expansion of the country’s wine market. China is now the fifth-largest wine-producing nation in the world, and it nearly tripled its consumption of red wine between 2008 and 2013, becoming the world’s largest consumer of the beverage. But old drinking habits linger, and Ma has acquired a benevolent patience with potential buyers who swig his painstakingly crafted pinots as if they were baijiu.
On this September night, Ma’s guests are gathered to celebrate the release of Jade Valley’s newest vintages. Most are Chinese urbanites who flew in to Xi’an and made the drive to Jade Valley specifically for the event. They are an assortment of friends, business partners, investors, and potential clients, many of whom have come to know Ma through the architecture world. In the years since Ma built his father’s house, his Shanghai firm has been commissioned for a number of prestigious national building projects. Ma was included in an exhibition on Chinese contemporary art at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, had his work shown at the Venice Biennale, and served as a planning expert to the International Olympic Committee for the 2008 Beijing Games.
“He was one of the first to show that Chinese architects, and particularly young Chinese architects, should have nothing to fear,” says the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. (Ma helped facilitate his work on projects such as the China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing.) “I see him as someone with a kind of insatiable curiosity, who is constantly testing himself.” In 2006, when Ma was tapped to become dean of the USC School of Architecture, he began splitting his time between China and the U.S.
On most days, Ma moves between his professional roles — architect, administrator, entrepreneur — with remarkable fluidity. But on this night, he has only to focus on one goal: attracting investment for his winery. As a highly social, almost hyperactive connector, he takes to the job naturally. Ma is compact, with a goatee and thick black glasses. At 50, he exudes a youthful energy. When he speaks in English, his second language, he peppers his sentences with “freakin’” and “shit.” He flits around the table, facilitating introductions, pausing to take photos and chat up his friends, his hearty laugh roaring above the din.
The meal kicks off with a brief introduction to the wine: cabernet sauvignon made from Jade Valley’s vineyards in the western province of Ningxia; peach and plum wines, part of Jade Valley’s new experimental operation on the outskirts of Beijing; rosé and white wine, which the winery produces in only very small amounts; and then Jade Valley’s specialty, a relative rarity in China and Ma’s favorite, a pinot noir.
After the introduction, Ma jumps up from his place at the head of the table and begins describing why making rosé, which has lower profit margins than red wine, is the mark of a serious winery. “For a lot of wineries, the juice is weight, and weight can be sold. So they might alter the color, add color, add a lot of things to make the wine seem very high quality and good. But those are all fake wineries. The wineries that make rosé are the wineries that make real wine.” Ma finishes his mini-lecture, and his guests break out in applause.
When Ma started Jade Valley, he was drawn to the idea of saving the village from the fate of so many rural Chinese areas. As China’s cities have expanded and new ones have emerged seemingly overnight, traditionally agricultural regions have been eaten up by urban and industrial sprawl. Ma envisioned a beautifully designed winery that would provide high-paying agricultural jobs and draw tourists to the Yushan area, giving it a better chance of fending off Xi’an’s encroaching development.
He pitched the idea to his brother. After years spent working as a technician in a military garment factory in Xi’an, Jianchao had returned to the village to set up a small business growing and selling traditional Chinese medicine. “I knew nothing about wine,” Jianchao says. “I only knew about industrial enterprises — input, output, and raw-material processes.” But as the two brothers talked, Jianchao grew enamored with the idea of helping farmers and bolstering the local economy.
The young man he’d heard was growing grapes nearby was named Wang Xirui. Wang was a recent graduate from the country’s first oenology school, just a few hours away at one of China’s premier agricultural universities. As a practical experiment meant to supplement the textbook education he’d received in school, he’d obtained some cuttings of vines from the university and planted them in his cousin’s backyard. Of the 11 varietals Wang planted, only four seemed to thrive: pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.
Wang made 50 to 60 bottles of wine in his first year. Ma and Jianchao approached him soon after, and in 2001, the three incorporated the new company, naming it Jade Valley after the town. Ma took the lead as the sole financial backer of the winery, but he was living in Shanghai at that point and visiting Yushan only once a month, so he began thinking about who might be able to run it. One of the first candidates to come to mind was Sun Dahai, a manager at a travel agency in the Xi’an airport whom Ma had befriended several years earlier when he was making regular trips from New York to China.
“He looked a lot weirder back then,” Sun — a portly 45-year-old with a round, genial face — says of Ma. “His hair was long like a woman’s, and he had a beard. He dressed like he was a scholar, but when he talked, it was in our local Shaanxi dialect. I remember thinking, This guy is pretty cool and pretty weird.”
With Sun managing, Wang in charge of the winemaking, and Jianchao handling logistics, Ma had the beginnings of a team. The local government supported the venture and gave Jade Valley a small warehouse to use. Sun and Jianchao left their families in Xi’an and moved to the village to get started.
To make their first vintage, Sun tells me, “we adhered to a very academic way of winemaking” — by which he means they relied entirely on Wang’s old textbooks. Whatever a book said, they did. Whatever it omitted, they omitted. Wang Xirui had bought some rudimentary equipment, but they did almost everything — harvesting, destemming, crushing — by hand. When it came time for fermentation, they repurposed the big terra-cotta urns that local villagers used to make persimmon vinegar as fermentation tanks. To seal the urns, they placed large cotton pads on top and weighed them down with heavy stones. “We were making wine like the ancient Romans,” Sun remembers, laughing. “It was all very primitive.” At the end of each day, they trudged back to their homes covered in grape juice, their hands swollen from the acidity.
In 2003, more than three years after starting in earnest, Jade Valley made about 1,500 bottles of its first vintage. When the wine was ready to drink, Ma hosted a tasting with his team, plus a few of his high school classmates. The wine was terrible: unfiltered, semi-fermented, milky pink juice that tasted bitter and astringent. But it didn’t matter. “When I saw that people were tipsy, I knew there was alcohol in it,” Ma says. “That made me feel very proud.” After the tasting, they distributed 500 bottles among employees at the MADA s.p.a.m office in Shanghai and distilled the rest into brandy, as wineries often do with bad batches.
Ma and his collaborators made more wine, and more wine, getting a little bit better with each batch. They convinced local farmers to grow grapes to their specifications; they rented and eventually bought out a former flour factory in the town to expand their laboratory; they scraped together money, mostly Ma’s, to buy new equipment and hacked alternatives for what they couldn’t afford. They began measuring the sweetness of the grapes and the level of alcohol and acidity in the wine they were making, though they still struggled to figure out how it was supposed to taste. The problem, Ma realized, was akin to another issue he’d noticed in China: the abundance of parking structures designed by people who have never driven.
Employees came and went — Wang eventually quit and was replaced with a graduate from the local oenology school — but the wines improved and eventually, miraculously, weren’t half bad. The year 2006 was especially good for wineries in Shaanxi; the weather was ideal and the grapes were healthy. In 2010, the prominent British wine critic Jancis Robinson singled out Jade Valley as one of China’s up-and-coming wineries. Robinson seemed particularly impressed by the winery’s 2006 pinot noir, though her expectations were admittedly low. The wine “did actually taste of Pinot Noir,” Robinson wrote, adding that it was “quite a feat for a Pinot Noir grown anywhere, let alone in the wilds of China.”
One night in 1995 in Beijing, an American wine importer named Sam Featherston witnessed a horrific scene: a group of Chinese businessmen at a karaoke bar mixing 12 bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild, one of the world’s rarest and most coveted wines, with Sprite, adding watermelon and orange slices. “I am sure a few die-hard French winemakers would have turned in their graves,” Featherston, who declined to partake, later told The New York Times of the experience.
In just 20 years, Chinese drinking habits have changed dramatically. Chinese buyers of fine and rare wines have become some of the product’s most sophisticated consumers, with eyes for quality and not necessarily the price tags. With the second-most millionaires in the world, China has upended the market for fine wines, particularly in Bordeaux and more recently Burgundy, regions with which the Chinese hold a particular fascination. Chinese consumers have driven up the prices of top wines from these areas, with the prices of some Bordeaux going up by more than 1,000 percent. In addition to snapping up the most expensive bottles of Lafite, Romanée-Conti, and Latour, they have also been buying the vineyards themselves: Around 60 châteaux in Bordeaux are thought to be under Chinese ownership.
Still, the vast majority of wine consumed in China — about 83 percent — is produced domestically. Though the country has a grape-growing tradition that dates back to the fourth century B.C., winemaking in its modern form came to China in 1892, when Changyu, now the nation’s oldest winery, was established in Shandong province. The industry remained small for decades, until the economic reforms of the 1980s and the expansion of personal wealth in the 2000s fueled dramatic growth. Analysts predict that within five years, China will bottle more wine and devote more land to wine production than any other country.
With this quantity comes questionable quality. Many Chinese wineries relabel and resell imported bulk wine, or blend it with wine from their own grapes; adding alcohol and dye is not uncommon. But among what Robinson has called “a great deal of very ordinary, often faulty, sometimes extremely questionable liquid on sale in China labeled as wine” are a handful of wines that are respectable, even internationally competitive. China has actively recruited some of the world’s best wine producers and houses to help establish vineyards. Château Lafite Rothschild has partnered with a Chinese company to set up a production base in Shandong, and the LVMH Group, a French luxury conglomerate, has begun developing vineyards to make sparkling wine in parts of western China.
Somewhere between the mislabeled junk and the thousand-dollar bottles is an underdeveloped midrange market, one that Jade Valley is targeting. “I think the biggest change in the industry right now is we are going from status-based buying to taste-based buying,” says Jim Boyce, who blogs about the Chinese wine industry. “It’s always been about the brand — how much it costs, does it impress my boss, can I use it for a business dinner — and now I think we’re getting more and more people who actually like wine and who drink it for enjoyment.”
In 2009, Ma took Jianchao and Sun on a two-month pilgrimage to California. Neither had traveled to the U.S. before. In Napa, Ma took his team to legendary wineries such as Opus One, Dominus Estate, and Robert Mondavi. “My first impression: advanced. The second: luxury,” says Sun. In Yushan, he explains, starting a winery was like the Chinese saying “crossing the river by feeling for stones.” Sun and Jianchao were shocked to learn that the winemakers they met in Napa didn’t have to worry about subpar equipment or limited space. They didn’t appear concerned about whether funding was about to run out or the government was going to take back the land. They could use steel stakes in their vineyards that would have been stolen if left in the fields in China. The only thing Napa winemakers had to worry about, it seemed, was making good wine.
The wine was also very different from what Jianchao and Sun were used to. It was “almost too strong,” Sun says of the full-bodied, high-alcohol wines the region is known for. “If you drank too much, you felt drowned.” He was surprised to see that many of them sold for only $20 to $30 for a good bottle, about the same as Jade Valley Creek, Jade Valley’s low-end wine, and well below the $90 or more Jade Valley was charging for its higher-end, though still much less refined, wines.
At Opus One, Ma and his team spent time with the winemaker Michael Silacci, whom Ma had met through a friend. Ma confided in Silacci that he wanted to step up the quality of the wine he was making, and that he was starting to think he might need to bring in a foreign winemaker to do so. Silacci agreed to help him find one and called one of his protégés, 39-year-old Victoria Coleman. At the time, Coleman was working for several wineries in the area, including Mario Bazán Cellars, Lobo Wines, and Tyge William Cellars. She’d met Silacci in 1998, while working as a temporary receptionist at Stag’s Leap; he’d been a mentor as she worked her way up through the industry.
Coleman told Silacci she wasn’t interested in going to China but agreed, reluctantly, to meet with Ma. Over dinner at Ad Hoc, the more casual sister restaurant to The French Laundry, Ma told her about Jade Valley and laid out his vision for the winery. He insisted that she visit. As dinner wore on, Coleman started coming around. She had always wanted to see the country. “By the end of the meal, they were like, ‘You’re so brave — welcome to China!’” Coleman says. “And I was like, Um, what just happened here?”
Several weeks later, Coleman found herself on a plane to Shanghai. It was her first trip to Asia. At an event hosted by Ma’s architecture firm, she tried Jade Valley’s wine for the first time. A cabernet sauvignon, it was so light in color, she says, that it looked almost like a rosé. Sun, whom Coleman had just met, looked at her expectantly. “Oh, it’s … drinkable,” she remembers telling him. It was the best she could come up with. Sun, appearing almost surprised, thanked her.
The next day, Coleman flew to Xi’an, where she was picked up by Ma’s driver and driven straight to the winery. It was November, but Coleman, who grew up in Seattle, had packed only a thin wool coat. “It was freezing, freezing, freezing cold,” she says. “I’d never been so cold in my life, ever.”
As they drove through the countryside, she was struck by the destitute-looking villages. When they arrived at the winery, the driver honked his horn and a guard came out to open the red metal gate. From the outside, Coleman remembers, the faded gray buildings looked nondescript. But she was wowed by their elegant interiors: clean lines, muted colors, natural materials.
In the next six days, Coleman inspected Jade Valley’s lab and cellar equipment, looked over its vineyards, and began blending past vintages, some of which she found to be underextracted and very acidic. When she wasn’t working, the team took her to see the terra-cotta warriors and Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter, as well as to numerous restaurants. Coleman, who is African American, found herself the subject of much local curiosity. “When she goes out in the countryside, literally the people are like this,” Ma says, raising his eyebrows and bugging out his eyes.
By the end of her trip, Coleman was undecided. Moving from one of the centers of the global wine industry to a fledgling operation in rural China would be crazy. Or would it? Unlike many of the brands she worked for in Napa, Jade Valley had its own vineyards and compound, and by now it even had some decent equipment. And the wines had so much room to improve. In China, she reasoned, she could have a greater influence.
In January 2011, Coleman returned to Jade Valley. This time she came better prepared, with a heavy coat and warming packs for her boots and pockets. She stayed for about a week, during which time she and Ma worked out an agreement. As Jade Valley’s principal winemaker, she would come to China three or more times a year for several weeks at a time, and she would be responsible for making all of its wines. “I was excited for the opportunity, but scared still,” she says. “It was kind of a moment of, Whoa, what am I getting myself into?”
Coleman decided to start where she was most comfortable: in the vineyards. She knew that if she could get good grapes at Jade Valley, then the rest would work itself out. Unfortunately, no one had told her about the annual rains that thrashed the region just as the grapes were ripening every summer. Under Sun’s direction, the team had been picking the grapes before the rains came, just as the fruit had turned color but before it developed any flavor. Coleman insisted that they harvest after the storms had passed. Often the rains were so violent, she remembers, that she would wake up in the dormitory in the middle of the night, panicked that she had made the wrong call. In the mornings, she and her team would trudge through the muddy rows to cut out the rot.
She also needed to show Jade Valley’s workers new ways to care for and harvest the grapes. “They were trained to do it one way from before,” she says. “So for me to come in and say, ‘There needs to be more attention to detail’? It’s not fun.”
For exercise, Coleman would go for runs through the surrounding villages. The villagers, most of whom had never seen a black person before, stopped to stare at her as she ran by. Over time, Coleman got used to it. Still, she remained a conspicuous presence. She recalls a time when she and some colleagues drove to a village three hours away to buy fruit. The farmers there were paid subsidies to grow grapes for a local branch of Changyu, the large state-owned winery, but had agreed to sell to Jade Valley because it offered a better price. When Changyu found out that Coleman and her team had been spotted buying their designated grapes, they put up roadblocks to prevent the Jade Valley entourage from leaving town. “It was really wild,” Coleman says. After that, Coleman was forbidden from going out to buy fruit. “You’re too attractive,” she remembers Sun and Wang Zheng, Ma’s assistant, telling her. “You mean I’m too obvious,” she responded, laughing.
After a difficult first year in the vineyards, Coleman turned her attention to educating her staff, holding tastings with wines from California, France, Australia, and New Zealand that she brought over in her suitcase. Many team members hadn’t tasted foreign wines, which are less acidic and higher in alcohol than the Chinese style. “They were just like, ‘Euuuch,’” Coleman says, scrunching up her face.
But once they’d adjusted to the new wines, they found it difficult to go back to what they’d been used to. Coleman recalls a side-by-side tasting of Opus One and Great Wall, which is made by one of China’s state-owned wineries. The team loved the Opus One. When they got to the Great Wall, she says, they were disgusted — but after they fetched some 7 Up they had no trouble putting it back.
Coleman kept up this routine for several years, making gradual progress with each trip to Xi’an. She focused on the pinot (Ma’s “pride and joy,” she says) and began developing about 50 acres of cabernet sauvignon grapes in Ningxia, a small northwest province that’s becoming a top wine-producing region in China. A few years ago, Jade Valley also opened an operation to make peach wine on the outskirts of Beijing, hoping to attract attention from younger customers in China’s wealthy urban capital. Jianchao moved to Beijing to run it.
Coleman and Ma disagreed on a number of key issues, however, including the pricing of the wine. From the beginning, Ma had envisioned Jade Valley as a high-end brand, and he’d priced his wines as such — upwards of 550 Chinese yuan, or almost $90, for the better bottles. But Coleman thought that more people would drink Jade Valley’s wines if they were more affordable, giving the winery time to grow into a higher price point. “You can’t just produce wine and put a price on it,” she says. “The quality has got to be there — they don’t even know who you are.”
There were other sources of tension. Construction had recently begun on a large expansion of the Jade Valley resort, which Ma hoped to make into an eco-tourism destination. The project was a major drain to Ma’s finances, and he found himself unable to cover Coleman’s consultant fees. To Coleman, the construction was a huge disruption — to the winemaking process and the focus of the winery. “I felt like the wine was taking a back seat,” she says. “I didn’t want to compromise my role in taking care of the wine for this idea of tourism.” Frustrated with the direction of the company, Coleman left the winery in 2012.
Today the Stone House sits empty and serene, at the foot of a hill shaped auspiciously like a giant Buddha. Its two-story, floor-to-ceiling windows have been boarded up. Ma’s father passed away in 2009. His mother, now 81, lives in Xi’an with Ma’s sister.
On a recent spring afternoon, I met up with Ma at a café in a trendy art district of Beijing, next door to one of his newer projects: Space ALL, a kind of incubator, gallery, and working space for design startups. He showed up to our meeting almost two hours late, dressed in a khaki suit and a light-blue button-up shirt, with Wang Zheng, who had become the chief operating officer of Jade Valley. They were coming from a lunch; Wang carried a plastic bag of wineglasses, since restaurants in China sometimes don’t have their own.
“I have been crazily busy,” Ma said, sitting down and ordering an iced Americano. In addition to his architecture work, the winery, his position as dean of architecture at USC, and Space ALL, he’s developing an animated film based on a story his mother used to tell him as a child. Eventually, he told me, he is planning to develop games based on the film (“think Angry Birds”) and spinoff merchandise.
The winery hit a rough patch after President Xi Jinping announced a wide-ranging government campaign against corruption and extravagance in 2012. As government officials began shunning gift-giving and lavish banquets, sales of luxury wines, both domestic and foreign, dropped. A major Jade Valley investor backed out, forcing Ma to take out several personal loans.
But in many ways, Ma told me, the winery was now on better financial footing than ever. In 2013 it made 10 million yuan, and last year it brought in 8 million. Together with the revenue from the membership club, Jade Valley was finally breaking even. Also last year, for the first time in its 15-year history, Jade Valley had not purchased any grapes from any outside growers, instead relying on its own vineyards. The winery was producing an annual average of about 60 tons of wine, or 100,000 bottles — a boutique winery by Chinese standards, but much larger than many boutique wineries in Napa — and Ma was finally in the process of converting the facilities to meet export standards. Most significantly, Ma told me, he had managed to secure an operational loan and convinced Coleman to return this summer.
One of Ma’s assistants came by the café to take him to a lecture he was hosting next door at Space ALL. “They are about to start. One of the zongs is already here,” she said, using the Chinese term for a president.
“Which zong?” Ma asked.
“Zhai zong,” she said.
Ma, unbothered, continued. He was now in full entrepreneur mode, and talked excitedly about a new online sales strategy that he believed would “disrupt the ongoing sales culture in China.” The idea, he said, was to focus on the post-’90s generation and to build an online community around the appreciation of wine, a concept that Ma called “winerism.” He told me that he recently made the decision to begin working with a Shanghai-based distributor. (He originally hoped to sell the wine himself, and blamed his salespeople for the poor results, saying that they didn’t “have the can-do freakin’ mentality.”)
He talked for nearly an hour, about his friends Ai Weiwei and Jia Zhangke and about a show that he was organizing in Los Angeles about human bodies that he said would include some “very disturbing images.” Eventually, as he stood up to go meet with his zongs, he told me that he has one more goal for Jade Valley. “We have not made the best wine,” he said, “that can go to the U.S. and knock the other stuff out.”
I spoke to Coleman in June, just after she returned from a weeklong trip to China. She sounded optimistic — and perhaps a bit surprised to be optimistic. In the three years that she had been gone, the vineyards in Jade Valley and in Ningxia had become stronger, the wines more concentrated, the lab better set up. Seeing the LVMH sparkling-wine operation and tasting some of the wines at a local winery in Ningxia showed Coleman, for the first time, the potential for a high-quality Chinese wine. It was “actually really good, surprisingly,” said Coleman. “And I’m like, If they can do this, then Jade Valley, you got to get on your game.”
People in the wine world have begun to ask Coleman whether China will produce the next Napa. “I can’t say it’s the same as what it was here in the 1960s,” she told me. The answer she gives instead is a bit circuitous: “I think it’s the next China.”