Huailai 2015 wine harvest: rain and rot challenge producers

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Higher than usual rainfall and subsequent disease mean that wine producers from Huailai County in China’s Hebei Province are cautious about 2015 wine harvest quality.

Nearly 30 years old vine in Shacheng, HebeiImage: nearly 30-year-old vineyard in Shacheng, Hebei province © LI Demei

The Huaizhuo Basin wine region of Huailai County, Hebei Province, saw significantly higher rainfall in 2015 versus the previous year. Part of the region also suffered from hail during veraison. Continuous rainfall during ripening season made it harder to control yields, and has led to some diseases, said producers.

The Huaizhuo Basin (aka Shacheng) of Huailai County is one of the young and upcoming wine regions in China. The region is located in the northwest of Beijing, and is home to China’s first dry white wine.

Though the region is generally dryer and sunnier than its sister region Changli, which is situated in the northeast of Beijing, the ‘unpredictable’ climate is still one of the biggest challenges this region is facing.

‘Neither brilliant nor bad’

‘This is neither a brilliant vintage nor a bad one,’ said ZHANG Hui, viticulturist in charge of Huailai Sino-French Wine and Canaan Wine Estate company, both situated in the region.

Though there was no danger of early frost, heavy hail and continuous cloudy, rainy days after varaison ‘lead to gray mold on many white varieties and thin-skin red varieties,’ Zhang told DecanterChina.com.

‘Luckily during the red harvest the weather was sunny and dry,’ said Zhang, though taking precautions on diseases were crucial to producers this year.

‘The quality of grape wasn’t the best this year, though the production volume is not bad,’ said Dr WU Yuwen of Greatwall's Chateau SunGod. However, Dr Wu refused to give prediction on the quality of the ‘unfinished’ wines.

The increased rainfall ‘didn’t impact too much on our red grapes, but the quality wasn’t as good as the previous two years,’ agreed YANG Hui of Huailai Amethyst winery, adding that producers with advanced equipment and high sorting standard should find it easier to maintain quality.

Still searching for identity

Besides the challenges brought by unpredictable weather conditions, ‘the young region is yet to form an established style,’ said WU Tan, educator and viticulturist who used to work as a vineyard manager in Huailai.

Though improvements in viticultural techniques have boosted the quality of the wine, ‘the majority of vineyards here are still managed extensively,’ said Wu Yuwen. ‘Producers’ choices of variety are singular, and they tend to follow each other. The region is still looking for the most suitable variety.’

Another challenge faced by the region is the increasing cost of labour and land, which means it’s getting more and more expensive to make wines in Huailai, said Wu Yuwen.

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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