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Chateau Guofei • Where the Fruit Shines

ZHANG Bo assumed responsibility for Chateau Guofei from his father in 2014. A former magistrate, Zhang (with law degress from China and Germany), continues to be based in Lanzhou, Gansu, where he works as a pro bono legal counsel offering free legal advice to individuals.

First planted in 2009 and started by his father, ZHANG Bo took charge of Chateau Guofei, situated in Heshou  (aka Hoxud) County, Xinjiang, in 2014. A former magistrate, the young man continues to be based in Lanzhou, provincial capital of Gansu. With law degrees from China and Germany, Zhang continues to work as a pro bono legal counsel offering his services free-of-charge to individuals and groups.

Located in the distant western fringe of China – about 3,400 kilometres to Beijing – Xinjiang is considerably nearer to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The vineyards enjoy distinct advantages over other wine regions in China. Hot, dry, and windy, the vines are essentially free from pests and diseases because of the acutely dry conditions. While rain (about only 80 mm a year) is scarce and precious, there is water from snow on the mountains which, when it melts, is the most pristine, pure moisture. There are also natural underground springs.

The difference of temperatures between day and night can be extreme and during the coldest part of winter can dive to minus 25 Celsius, sometimes more. As a result, vines throughout Xinjiang have to be buried in the autumn which wake up and reappear in the spring. This extra preservation technique is very costly, both in human labour and financially. The procedure also takes its toll on the vines. As the trunk grows thicker, pulling it in order to bury the plant snaps the vine. The average life-span of a vine is about 25 years.

Chief Winemaker CHENG firmly believes that winemaking starts in the vineyard. He is constantly trying to improve the soil; adjusting the trellising of the vines to get the best result; thinking of what varieties best suit the; selecting the appropriate barrels; but, also using oak minimally. 

Chateau Guofei is a certified organic vineyard. No chemical fertilizers nor pesticides are used. Instead, sheep manure and straw are employed. The 111-hectare vineyard is planted to, including syrah 36 ha; cabernet sauvignon 33 ha; riesling 22.5 ha; chardonnay 13 ha; and, merlot 6 ha.

‘Syrah and riesling grow best here. Chardonnay struggles to ripen and marselan does not grow well here either. We planted pinot noir in 2019 and it is showing good potential. Although we are situated just 50 kilometres north-east of Yanqi, we harvest about 10 days later,”  Zhang Bo.

Chateau Guofei is owned and managed by a young team with lots of gritty ideas. Their labels have an intellectual edge about them.

Chateau Guofei is a certified organic vineyard. No chemical fertilizers nor pesticides are used. Instead, sheep manure and straw are employed. The 111-hectare vineyard is planted to, including syrah 36 ha; cabernet sauvignon 33 ha; riesling 22.5 ha; chardonnay 13 ha; and, merlot 6 ha. The first vintage was 2012. Poplars are also planted around the vineyard to shield the vines from blustering winds and sand. There are 22 ha of protected forest. The soil type in Heshuo County is predominantly gravel and sand. The composition means very good drainage, an essential quality – whether in Xinjiang, Bordeaux or the Rioja – to producing impressive wine. Harvest is entirely by hand.

‘Syrah and riesling grow best here. Chardonnay struggles to ripen and marselan does not grow well here either. We planted pinot noir in 2019 and it is showing good potential. Although we are situated just 50 kilometres north-east of Yanqi, we harvest about 10 days later,” enlightened Zhang Bo.

Tasting the 2017 and 2018 Chateau Guofei Syrah and Riesling (in July 2019), it was very obvious that the younger vintage produced superior wines. As for their Chardonnay 2018, I find the citrus/green melon/soft vanilla fruit very fine, fresh, and balanced, preferring the tautness and vivacity over the riper style preferred by most Chinese wineries.

The picturesque Bosten Lake is located only 25 kilometres from Chateau Guofei. This important body of water – measuring 55 km long and 25 km at its widest – is a natural habitat for birds, ducks, fish, and helps moderate the temperatures of Heshuo County vineyards. Bosten Lake  is also a popular escape for locals and visitors alike from the hot, arid summer.

You may also want to read … Chateau Guofei Riesling 2018

Guofei produces both a dry and semi-sweet riesling. The latter was a recommendation by Bob Miao, an influential and widely read blogger on wine (and much more). Miao was the former Director of Michelin Guides for Greater China.

When he took over from his father in 2014, Zhang Bo installed CHENG Zhenglong as the new chief winemaker.  A graduate of the Northwest Agriculture & Forestry University in Yangling, Shaanxi Province,  Cheng firmly believes that winemaking starts in the vineyard. He is constantly trying to improve the soil; adjusting the trellising of the vines to get the best result for the grapes; thinking of what varieties best suit the vineyard of Chateau Guofei; selecting the appropriate barrels; but also using oak minimally to ensure the fruit shines.

In 2017, Revue du Vin de France China named Zhang Bo “China Wine Person of the Year” and Cheng Zhenglong “Outstanding Winemaker of China”.

Chateau Guofei has scored good successes at international and domestic competitions. These include their 2016 Chardonnay receiving a Commendation at Decanter World Wine Awards in 2018. Chateau Guofei Shiraz 2016 did even better and won Silver at the same London competition. Best performer, to date, is their 100% Cabernet Sauvingon.  Chateau Guofei Oak Barrels 2016 took Gold. It was just one of eight Chinese wines to do so at the international competition in London. I must declare my interest here because I have been Regional Chairman of Asia for DWWA since the London competition started 16 years ago. The wines are, of course, tasted blind.  Over in Belgium, Chateau Guofei Xila Dry Red 2015 also scored Gold at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2017. As for the whites, both Guofei Chardonnay 2016 and Guofei Riesling 2016 also took Gold at the 22nd Berlin Wine Trophy Competition 2018.

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