Visiting a Vineyard in an Unexpected Place

Charlotte Hopkinson, Taigu Fellow 2013-2015, took her class on a trip to Grace Vineyard in Shanxi Province. She was so impressed by the experience, that she took a second trip. Here’s her story.

“Congratulations! Each member of the winning team gets a Qingdao beer!” That’s how my doctoral class ended in late April 2015. Each spring semester, a different group of students chooses a topic for the week, organizes a discussion based on a reading, and creates a game to help the class. This week’s topic was wine and cocktails. Instead of assigning one article for my PhD students, I gave them a dozen, ranging from the origins of different cocktails to alcoholism. One article caught my attention as it detailed Grace Vineyards, a Taigu-based vineyard. After a question-filled discussion, a game of cocktail- themed jeopardy, and some happy winners, I announced that we would take an optional field trip to Grace Vineyards to tour the vineyards, production room, and sample wine.

To my surprise about 20 students as well as spouses, children, and friends signed up to go. Although technically located in Taigu County, the vineyard is much closer to the town of Yuci. After a 40 minute ride in 3 mini-vans, we arrived at the gates of Grace Vineyards or 怡园酒庄. Businessman Chun Keung Chen in cooperation with Bordeaux oenolgist Denis Boubals founded Grace Vineyards in 1997. In 2002, Chen’s daughter Judy Leissner took over the business and continues keeping a family-run-business-feeling, while achieving international acclaim for both its wine production and successful business strategies.

A view of Grace Vineyards

At the entrance to Grace Vineyard

We were greeted by a tour guide who took us to the terrace overlooking the vineyards, a theater to view the informational video, the wine production, the cellar, and finally the tasting room. Although a typical tour lasts about 30-45 minutes, my PhD students, all doing research related to agriculture, quizzed the tour guides non-stop on every aspect of wine production: temperatures, soil acidity, fermentation, storage, and more. They were delighted by the wine tasting and intrigued by the steps meticulously explained by the guide. We were even given a complimentary bottle usually reserved to friends of the vineyards during the holidays. At the end of the tour, at least 8 of my students had bought some of their own wine bottles to share with family and friends.

Getting a tour at Grace Vineyard

In the Cellar

Sampling wine

In May, the number of foreigners in Taigu County nearly doubled overnight. Past Taigu fellows Nick Hatt (’08-’10) Daniel Tam-Claiborne (’09-’11), and current Banda Aceh fellowLeila Goldstein, as well as family and friends joined the usual suspects in Taigu to go on what was now my second tour of the vineyard. Compared to my PhD student tour there were two significant differences: fewer tricky questions for the tour guide and many more bottles to taste. Although the wine industry, as well as tourism, in China is just in its infant phase, if you are in the area, I recommend stopping by Grace Vineyards. The diversity of cépage, beautiful setting, quality of the wine, and warmth of the staff will surprise you!

The Shansi crew and friends enter the vineyard! Included in this photo are current fellows Charlotte, Xenna, and Nathan and former Fellow, Daniel Tam-Claiborne

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