When it comes to China, some people like to whine while other simply like to wine. A dozen of the latter got together on November 5 for a trip to the Taillan winery, about 30 kilometers southwest of Beijing. The trip was arranged by the American Community Club and led by John Bull Pub owner Frank Siegel and ACC After Hours Committee member Shauna Cheng. After a leisurely drive to the winery, we received a tour of the vineyards by general manager Alain Lecroux, who has been with the Taillan winery, a Sino-French venture, since its startup nine years ago. Alain, who hails from Brittany, said the vines are imported, with 100,000 of them coming in 1997. (Wine whiz and tour attendee Andrew McDonald notes that the vines are grafted onto North American rootstalks, which costs more money but protects them from phylloxera bugs. That’s some forward thinking by Taillan.)
Alain noted the difficulty of producing wine in China. “At the beginning, French people thought it would be an easy market, but no.” Then we headed inside and learned that the vats can store up to 100000 bottles of wine and that the facility can process 30000 bottles per hour (and often does bottling for other companies).
Our little group could never handle 30000 bottles per hour, but we were ready to try. After Frank unpacked a picnic lunch of cold cuts, cheese, breads and potato salad, Alain cracked the first of six wines. The important thing, he stressed, was not how well Taillan wines stacked up against the competition, but that they are “drinkable.” He got no argument from us. Over a couple of hours, we tried the 2000 Chardonnay (“Apples and pears,” says Alain), 2003 Rose (went down as quick as draft beer); 2003 Malbec (“This one’s my favorite,” says Alain. Me, too; it had a “happy smell,” whatever that means), Merlot (drinkable-plus), 2001 Pinot Noir (drinkable), and 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (“it was a bit too peppery, although at this point, I think my taste buds might have been upset by the potato salad, which had a creamy nose, hints of mayonnaise and a smooth finish”). At some point, Alain said, “this wine reminds me of dry grass, two days after it’s been cut,” but as is usual with my notes, I have no idea of the context. In the end, I bought eight bottles of Malbec, four of Pinot Noir, and one each of Cognac and Armagnac. That seems to total 14, but for some reason when we got off the bus in Beijing, I only had seven left and my wine-opening hand had cramps. Odd. In any case, home delivery of these wines is available in Beijing. To order or for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(From Beijing Boyce IV, first emailed on November 18, 2005)