A touch of glass

Updated: 2011-07-29 11:32

By Mark Graham (China Daily European Weekly)

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A touch of glass
Winemaking has become a passion for Emma Gao and the fruits of her labor can be seen and tasted through her Silver Heights label. Mark Graham / for China Daily 

French-trained winemaker Emma Gao is producing vintages in remote Ningxia autonomous region that are drawing rave reviews from wine critics

Wine made by Emma Gao at the tiny, family-owned Silver Heights winery has made it onto the wine list of a prestigious five-star hotel group, sharing the carte with famous French vintages. Gao, one of the few Chinese to have qualified from the Ecole d'Oenologie in Bordeaux, makes wine that has the critics swooning.

It is produced in only limited quantities - just 6,000 bottles a year - and is snapped up by connoisseurs, including the exclusive Aman resorts, which operates two ultra-luxury hotels in China.

"I stumbled upon Silver Heights while discussing the wines of Gansu, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia with a colleague," says Crystal Edgar, cellarmaster for Aman resorts. "It was mentioned in a small publication and I found a supplier in Beijing who carried two different red blends. The Summit was my favourite. The wine possesses nice concentration with moderate red fruit character while maintaining a good balance of acidity and tannin.

"Last year we hosted a large California wine event and showcased this wine, among a few other local wines, to several top wine producers from California. They were equally impressed. I have heard wonderful things about Emma Gao and her passion for producing quality wines."

For Gao, winemaking has become a passion, but it was a career path that came about purely by chance.

The local government, which was keen for locals to learn more about wine production, targeted three people for crash-course training at the world-renowned wine college in Bordeaux. The role of French-speaking Gao with the delegation was primarily as a translator but she became intrigued by the wine-making process and decided to stay on for further study. "My father encouraged me to go and learn the technical side of wine making," recalls Gao, 34.

"He worked in administration with a state winery and told me that our region has the possibility to produce good wine. I found that after six months studying in France I had learned nothing, but I had got the interest to go back and study more.

"I applied to study at the Ecole d'Oenologie in Bordeaux; there were 300 candidates for 30 places that year but I managed to get in. I didn't really have the background and I didn't know the language well but after a year I started to understand it much better.

"During the vacations I stayed in France and did an internship in a chateau to learn. I really wanted to understand. I did all kinds of work, even inside the tanks. It was very tough work the smell of alcohol can be overpowering at times."

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