May 09: China and Austria may be in lockdown but Chateau Changyu Moser XV wine estate near Yinchuan in Ningxia in Northwest China, in which Austrian winemaker Lenz Moser has been involved from the very beginning in the viticulture, winemaking and overseeing of sales in Europe, is open and producing wine though Lenz has been managing to operate from his home in Frauenkirchen in Burgenland and continues the dialogue between the buyers as well as the winery, writes Subhash Arora who had a long chat with him a couple of weeks ago
There is a lockdown both in China and Austria so Lenz Moser-Viticulturist and Winemaker who might have been in the European market meeting some of the customers of Chateau Changyu Moser XV or planning to visit the winery in Ningxia, is under self –quarantine at his home in Frauenkirchen, the Austrian town in Burgenland. He is quite happy with the 5 weeks of quarantine that helped Austria contain the Covid-19 virus successfully. In a way it has even helped him reorganise his work as he operates from home, making calls and interviews with his customers, principals in China and journalists across the world from his home office. Working with a positive frame of mind six days a week, this optimist winemaker has his work cut out. He had managed to talk to 175 customers and journalists so far when I chatted with him. ‘This has also given us a chance to rethink about our strategy,’ says Moser. He applauds China which he believes went all-out and ruthlessly to contain the Corona virus. When I queried him about any negative sentiments because of prejudices that the virus originated from China, he says there has been no adverse comment by any of the people he has talked to (though sentiments have turned more anti- China since then especially in the US, UK and Germany for not disclosing the virus earlier and causing a lot of lives that could have been saved). Business has naturally suffered but they have done 50% of the normal business and hope to reach their regular business by autumn.
What’s in the name
Changyu Moser XV wine estate built in 2012 near Yinchuan, is a part of China’s oldest and biggest wine producer Changyu since 1892. The government supported winery which falls under the Helan Mountain East region of Ningxia was built reportedly at a cost of $70 million and had roped in Lenz Moser, the 15th generation winemaker from Austria who also lent his name to the winery, giving it the European edge.
‘I do not hold any equity but work as the viticulturist and winemaker for the winery set up with a brief for me to make the best wine in China. I did not go into details about the costs which might seem to be high but it also gave us an opportunity and freedom to experiment in-house and do the estate-bottling. Our quality is much better because of having a premier estate,’ says Lenz.
Is Ningxia the best location
There is often criticism from wine experts and consultants that Ningxia is not the proper area for making quality wines at reasonable costs and that it has prospered due to the government giving it a special treatment. ‘There is some truth in that, especially because it involves burying and de-burying of wines in the colder months and Spring. But when we started scouting around for the right location in 2008-2009, we concluded this was the perfect region for vineyards. Many of the European wineries like Pernod Ricard and Chandon also selected this region later,’ he says.
‘I do believe that 11 years ago when we bought the land, it was the best location possible. While the government does not give any special benefits, it is definitely wine friendly and provides nice infrastructure. We have utilized it well to promote our wine tourism which is helped by the fact that we are almost in the midst of the city,’ Lenz says.
Although the winery falls in the Eastern Foothills of Helan Mountains region, it is practically within the city and this gives them an edge in terms of wine tourism which has been getting more and more popular.
Grapes of Changyu Moser
‘Cabernet Sauvignon is the signature grape for the region and the winery though we grow some Syrah and Merlot too. Upside here is that the berries for Cabernet are small making it a very concentrated wine, full on the palate’ as I had noticed along with many journalists on a visit to the winery in China last year and also during impromptu Tasting at the ‘Must Fermenting Ideas’ wine conference in Cascais, near Lisbon in Portugal last year. His wines were appreciated at both these places and with the old-world charm.
An interesting aspect has been absence of white wine grapes in the whole area. ‘I have worked with viticulture and winemaking mostly for white grapes in Austria but thanks to my experience working with my father I managed to learn about red wine making too. We make a white wine from Cabernet Sauvignon-called Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noir with notes of light pink. This is rather unique and has found a very good market in Europe.
On another query, he says Climate Change is not much of a problem right now in this region though the temperatures climbed 1.5⁰C during the last 20 years.
Changyu Moser has been exporting to 40 countries and Lenz claims to be number one in sales at the top end of the market, adding ‘of course wineries like Silver Heights in Ningxia are our direct competitors. Some of our wines fall under the fine wine category that stand very well against Opus One’. This is a substantial achievement for Changyu Moser which was not even in the export market barely 5 years ago. For the brand architecture Lenz visits Europe often.
About half of the production is sold in China whereas the rest is sold mostly in 25 countries in Europe. ‘This year we plan to enter Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec in Canada. Due to the US-China trade war that market is not opened up well for us,’ he adds.
‘With 250 hA of vineyard surface and a production of 600,000 bottles (50,000 cases) we are considered a medium size company. We make world class wine. There is no cheating, no fake wine. Though it is a purely Chinese wines, made from grapes grown in China, I gave it a European complexion,’ says Lenz when I asked him how he could lend his name with no equity in the winery. ‘I don’t believe in water-tight agreements to work. I am giving all I can-with my 30 years of winemaking experience. It is clear to me that we cannot do without each other and I am not concerned about distant future right now. I believe for next 10 years have great potential for our wines,’ he says.
Distribution is the key element for the domestic as well as export market. ‘We have appointed distributors in Germany, Switzerland and UK where we have three top notch distributors- Berkmann Cellars, Bibendum and Berry Bros. to handle exports.’
The wines cost within about $10 to $130 which compares with Opus One and some third Growths from Bordeaux, making it still a good value for money wine, accordingly to Lenz.
Winery was never closed when I chatted with Lenz about a couple of weeks ago. ‘There has been no case of Covid in the winery. I have a weekly video meeting with the winery. I usually visit China in May but this year it may not be feasible. April has been at 50% level while we expect the production to reach 60% and by autumn it should be in full steam. This when the whole of Ningxia has been in quarantine.
It appears Lenz Moser is wearing several hats- only one of them is that of a viticulture and winemaking specialist. He is also supervising the sales and marketing of the Chateau wines and also working to create branding for the products for international markets-all of which he does with a passion. Future holds a lot of promise and the winery is expected to benefit a lot from his participation. One will hear a lot more about Lenz Moser when one talks of Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia, China, considered by most as the best wine region of China despite challenges.
For more details visit http://www.changyu-moser-xv.de/
For an earlier related Article, visit:BRWSC 2019: Visiting Ningxia Wineries in Helan Mountain East in China