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Silver Heights

Gao Lin, the patriarch of Silver Heights started planting Cabernet Sauvignon vines sourced from France in 1999 and conviced his daughter to enroll in a Masters of Oenology program in Bordeaux. Even though she was trained in Bordeaux, New Wolrd techniques are embraced during the winemaking process.

In 1999, the patriarch of Silver Heights, Gao Lin, had a premonition: one day, his home province of Ningxia would become a sought-after region for world-class wines. He began planting Cabernet Sauvignon vines sourced from France, and convinced his daughter, Gao Yuan (also known as Emma), to voyage abroad to Bordeaux and there to enroll in a Masters of Oenology program.

While in France, Emma had the opportunity to intern at several historic Bordeaux wineries, including the world-famous Château Calon-Ségur. She quickly became close friends with the chateau’s winemaker, Thierry Courtade, whose family has been making wine at Calon-Ségur for three generations. Their friendship deepened into love, and they were married in 2003. In 2005, Emma returned home to China as one of the few Chinese women with a diplôme national d’oenologue, and Thierry and their daughter, also named Emma, followed soon after. The Younger Emma though still young is poised to become the third-generation owner of Silver Heights.

After returning, Emma first briefly worked for Torres China, one of the country’s most prestigious wine importers. Her true passion, however, lay in winemaking, and she collaborated with her father and Thierry to begin making a very small amount of wine at her parents’ farm on the then-outskirts of Yinchuan. One day, out of the blue, Emma presented an unlabelled magnum bottle of her 100% Cabernet Sauvignon to Alberto Fernandez, the managing partner of Torres China. He was blown away, and immediately proposed the following to her: she would make wine full-time, and Torres would distribute it. Thus, Silver Heights was finally born. And that first wine? It became Emma’s Reserve, and has gone on to acclaim.

Since their first vintage in 2007 was met with astonished accolades by domestic and international wine experts, Gao Lin, Emma, and Thierry have continued to focus on making the highest quality wine possible and on developing the Ningxia terroir.

Terrior

The Helan Mountain Eastern Foothills are located in a unique location topographically. Situated northwest of the capital city of Yinchuan, this wine region lies between the western part of Helan Mountain and the eastern part of Yellow River. The mountains are particularly important to wine cultivation here, as they block the freezing winds that roll across the Tengger Desert. The Yellow River is similarly important, as it provides the irrigation necessary to cultivate the grapes in this arid place. Also of note is the altitude of the wine region, which ranges from 1,100 to 1,300 meters (3600 to 4260 feet) above sea level.

The climate is extreme dry, with an average precipitation of only 193mm (7.6in) between July and September– similar to the Mendoza region in Argentina. What the region lacks in rain, it makes up for in sunshine, receiving 1700-2000 hours per year. Diurnal range can reach 12-15 ºC (21-27 ºF), a critical factor for achieving fully ripe grapes that retain their acidity.

There are two soil types in the Helan Mountain Eastern Foothills wine region: Sierozem and Eolian. Sierozem, a desert soil, is characterized by brownish gray color at the surface and lighter color below, and is based in a carbonate or hardpan layer. Different ratios of gravel, sand and clay within the Sierozem soil account for variations across wineries in the area. Eolian soil is made of wind deposited materials that consist primarily of sand or silt-sized particles. Silver Heights’ vineyards are all on Sierozem soil, with a high concentration of gravel.

One unique viticultural feature of the region is the practice of burying the vines under 30 cm (12 inches) of earth to protect them during the harsh, freezing winters.

Savoir-Faire

It is no surprise that Emma Gao and Thierry Courtade, both trained in Bordeaux, use classic Old-World techniques to produce Silver Heights’ wines. However, it is interesting that the very first task of the year is in fact a distinctly New World technique: the unearthing of vines in the beginning of April. This is a two-step process: first, the majority of the dirt covering the vines is removed by a tractor outfitted with a V shaped extension. Then, specially trained vineyard workers follow with shovels, carefully removing the last remaining soil and affixing the vines to the trellis.

After unearthing the vines, the vineyard management team would proceed according to organic principles– limited use of fertilizer or pesticides, and carefully manage each vine by hand. During harvest, we sort the grapes to ensure quality. Depending on the wines being made, grapes will be destemmed and crushed. Grapes destined for red wine making would undergo cold maceration for up to seven days, during which they are pumped over several times a day. The fermentation happens at cool temperatures and then press the grapes. White grapes are allowed to have micro-oxygenation during fermentation in order to develop self-protection against later, damaging oxidation, and are then pressed and fermented either in tank or in barrel. Malo-lactic fermentation is used for all of our wines, and for white wines, lees are left in contact for six months. Final fining is done using the traditional egg-white method of Bordeaux. ​

TL;DR

  • In 1999, the patriarch of Silver Heights, began planting Cabernet Sauvignon vines and convinced his daughter, Gao Yuan to voyage abroad to Bordeaux and enroll in a Masters of Oenology program

  • Since their first vintage in 2007 was met with astonished accolades by both domestic and international experts, they continued to focus on making the highest quality wine and developing the Ningxia terroir

  • Even though Gao Yuan was trained in Bordeaux, they use New World techniques – unearthing of vines

Fresh from the Winery

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