The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Chat with Judy Leissner, Improbable Winemaker

Posted on | May 11, 2012 | Written by Josh Rubenstein | No Comments

This week I had the pleasure to chat with Judy Leissner, proprietor of Grace Vineyard in China’s Shanxi province. Grace Vineyard has established itself as China’s premier producer of quality wine, and Judy’s unexpected journey from Goldman Sachs to assuming control of her family’s vineyard, thereby becoming a groundbreaking winemaker, has captivated the wine industry.

JR: What do you see as the current perception of winemaking in China?

JL: Most people certainly wouldn’t think of China as a wine-producing country, and certainly not being very good at it. It is important to ignore noises and keep you head down to go against the logical outcome.

JR: What needs to happen for people outside of China to consider trying Chinese wine?

JL: It cannot happen immediately. Time is part of brand building, and local producers need to work together for this joint effort.

JR: Who and what have influenced you as a producer?

JL: Jean-Michele Cazes of Lynch Bages and Miguel Torres. Both are so driven, yet down to earth and want to succeed not only for themselves but also for their countries.

(Judy also admires the branding and collaboration of Champagne producers as well as how Burgundy producers tend to their vines like their children.)

JR: Who are other Chinese winemakers we should look for?

JL: Demei Li recently won a Decanter award for his work with Jia Bei Lan and I admire his passion and commitment to educate. Also, Emma Gao of Silver Heights–this is a very small production with only about 3,000 bottles per wine, but it’s trying to be the best of the best.

JR: When you are not drinking your own wine, what are you drinking?

JL: I will open different wines at similar or higher prices to my own and see how they compare. Otherwise, depending on my mood, it will be Champagne or Pinot Noir.

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