Yealands winemaker secures trip to China

DEBORAH WALTON-DERRY AND PETER MORICE
Last updated 14:20 20/09/2012

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Wine has the ability to not only bring people together, but to bring whole cultures together, too. The Ningxia Wine Challenge is a perfect case in point, with one of Marlborough's winemakers, Patricia Miranda-Taylor, currently in China and experiencing harvest and winemaking in the Ningxia region.

News of the Ningxia Wine Challenge call for applicants came to her via a friend working in a local winery. “I've travelled a lot and am interested in different cultures,” she says. “This is a wonderful opportunity and it will be good for my career as a winemaker.”

Miranda-Taylor is Chilean by birth and originally came to New Zealand to do a vintage at Isabel Estate in 2004. She was soon offered the assistant winemaker's position and broadened her experience by doing vintages in Germany and France. Six months later she was offered the chief winemaking job at Isabel Estate.

Miranda-Taylor began working for Yealands Estate in March this year as a fixed-term vintage winemaker, but has since secured her winemaking role with the company. “I love working with all wine varieties,” she says, “but in my application for the Ningxia Wine Challenge I had to choose a favourite, and it would have to be pinot noir. It's a variety that truly expresses the soul of the winemaker and the site it was grown on.

"The grapes are sensitive to all changes, both in the vineyard and the winery - as well as the people working with it. Here in New Zealand, like other new world countries, it has such potential.”

Applying for the Ningxia Wine Challenge wasn't too difficult for her; it was completed in English, her second language. “I simply had to answer questions, not write a big essay and I knew my answers so it was not too difficult.”

As a successful applicant she is one of 10 winemakers from around the world who has been funded to visit the Ningxia region. It provides a unique opportunity for people to have a winemaking adventure and learn more about the growing and making of wine, in one of the most promising wine regions in China. It's also about cultural exchange, which makes Miranda-Taylor a particularly appropriate candidate with her Chilean heritage and New Zealand citizenship.

A panel of five experts from five nations was involved in the final selection of candidates. Among the most important selection criteria were qualifications and adaptability - the candidates will probably face some winemaking challenges, along with those of language and cultural differences. Miranda-Taylor thinks one of her advantages when applying was that she has worked in Austria, Australia, Italy, France, Germany and the United States.

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She is staying in Yinchuan, the capital of the Ningxia region. Before leaving she was told that due to cool weather and rain the harvest will be later than expected. Once the harvest is under way the white varieties will come in first - around 21 September, followed by the red from 5 October. Fermentation should be finished about three weeks after the harvest.

She is both nervous and excited about the trip, which is something of a working holiday that also includes introductions to the other nine successful international winemakers, a seminar, dinners, wine tastings and visits to wineries.

There is some financial reward for participation in the challenge, but it is the opportunity to work in yet another country that makes the trip so exciting. She is also very proud to be representing two countries, Chile and New Zealand, in this way.

Miranda-Taylor left New Zealand for Ningxia on 14 September, the wine challenge began on the 16th and she returns home in five weeks. The programme runs for two years so she will return three or four times to check her wines. “We will have local winemaking assistants and those assistants will take care of things while I am back home,” she says. Speaking of "back home" - what does her employer think of her successful selection for the challenge? “I have had full support from Yealands which is great. I am very grateful for its enthusiasm.”

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 ($31.99)

Deep, dark crimson red in the glass. The intense aroma of plums, cedar and violets is enhanced by a meaty, savoury note.

The juicy, fruity palate has some gentle, spicy oak, a hint of dustiness and some herbal characters. The fine-grained tannins are supported by tingly acids and the finish has cherry/plum and musky "smoker lolly" characters. Drying, moreish, complex and with excellent palate length - there's a lot to enjoy in this pinot.

Bouldevines Dog Point Road Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011 ($24.94)

The lifted, sweet aroma is perfumed, musky - a delightful blend of fresh fig, pear and gentle stone fruit notes.

The palate is powerful, spicy and mouth-filling. Guava, lychee and ginger flavours are moderated by some pear-skin crispness and there's a hint of dry herbs towards the finish. Oodles of character here; this wine is weighty but with a pleasingly dry finish.

- The Marlborough Express

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