Impressed by this proposal and aware of the need to produce good domestic wines, Premier Enlai made a national appeal to improve wine production in China. At the time, the young man Yang Shengjie worked in a fruit factory in Changli (about three hours east of Beijing). This company, founded by his father, was owned by the state (private ownership was prohibited). Shenji and his wife were the first workers at this factory – and that’s where they met. He began working in the winery and eventually became vice president of the winery.
Already known for his work at the Changli Fruit Factory – in 1979 he was chosen by China’s National Ministry of Light Industry to lead the National Viticulture Project – he led a group of 10 men sent to Bordeaux to increase their knowledge of viticulture and oenology. He brought cuttings from 26 Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc Merlot, Syrah, Carignan, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscat, and planted them in Changli. He discovered that Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay did very well in this part of China.
It is worth noting that China’s wine heritage dates back thousands of years – the earliest documented use of wild grapes for fermentation dates back to 7000 BC. Chr. Chr (the archaeological site of Jiahu, located about 4.5 hours north of Wuhan), as well as other ancient vineyard sites in countries such as Georgia (currently the oldest known site, dating back about 8000 years), Iran, Armenia, Israel and Iraq.
Ian Shenji produced his first glass of dry red wine in a laboratory in Changli in 1983. With an investment from China’s Ministry of National Light Industry, Shengjie was selected to operate a new winery called Huaxia Winery (the predecessor of Great Wall Winery). He was the director and winemaker and began producing Cabernet Sauvignon. His wife provided technical support for the winery. At the time, the wine was bottled under the name Beidaihe, named after Beidaihe, a popular summer resort to escape the heat of Beijing and an area also used by the government for its own summer resorts. The brand was then acquired by Great Wall, a subsidiary of the state-owned COFCO Group, probably the most iconic and well-known winery in China. And even today, it is the largest winery in China in terms of production volume. Although Shenji is long retired, his daughter Yang Bin is currently vice president of COFCO Great Wall Huaxia Winery.
Fast forward a few decades. Yan’s granddaughter, Xinyu Zhang (Xin), began producing Love ’70s in Napa Valley in 2014. They concentrate on one 100% Petite Sirah wine per year, producing about 400 cases. Originally, she did not plan to market the wine, but rather to give away bottles to friends and family. Their reactions were extremely positive. She made the 2014, 2015 and 2019 vintages. In 2020, after losing her crop to the color of smoke, she finally stopped producing and became a commercial grower.
Since her first vintage, she has worked with a small vineyard in Chiles Valley – a two-acre plot planted with Petit Sirah. According to Zhang, Chiles Valley is one of the best areas in Napa Valley for growing this grape – with a large temperature difference between day and night, promoting ripeness while maintaining acidity – but with a lot of heat during the days of the growing season. She enjoys working with this variety, both for its long-term aging potential and for its combination with various dishes, especially Asian cuisine.
Sinyue knew very early on that she wanted to be a winemaker, ever since she was six years old. Growing up, their extended family lived nearby and they were able to eat at Grandma’s every night. She remembers the tea table next to the dining room, which was only used by family members and other wine servants. After dinner they met there, drank tea and talked about wine and other things. When she saw through the eyes of a 6-year-old girl what this table represented, she remembered that one day she wanted the right to sit at this table.
And much later, his internship in Napa conclusively confirmed his desire to become a winemaker. Some of the reasons that attracted them to this profession are the interplay between science and art, the respect for nature, the influence of technology both in the vineyards and in the wineries, the culmination of the vintage and the lifestyle of being surrounded by good food and good wine.
70s Love is a tribute to the family and their important historical contributions to China’s wine heritage in the 1970s, but also a tribute to international history – how Napa Valley wines in the 1970s served as the first inspiration for China to create its own modern wine heritage. And how that cycle began in Napa Valley and continues here, through legacy, decades later.
Zhang received a master’s degree from UC Davis in viticulture and enology and studied the extraction of phenolic compounds during fermentation. During the 2018 harvest, she worked for about 6 months at Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, where she applied the research she learned during her master’s degree and helped measure phenolic compounds during both fermentation and maceration. She has also spent time on local wine teams in Inglenook and Calle Lilly.
She prefers wines with fruit characteristics of the grape variety to a strong influence of oak, and does not like to drink wines with high acidity or any astringency – especially those associated with tannins. It recognizes not only the scientific but also the artistic component of winemaking and gets to the heart of its role: The winemaker is the scientific artist who directs the symphony you find in your glass.
Tannin management is an important part of their winemaking – especially for a grape known for its high tannin content and resulting viscosity. During fermentation, when the alcohol content increases with temperature, short-chain tannins also increase. It is essential to monitor the release of monomeric anthocyanins (water-soluble colour pigments) in the early stages of fermentation, as there is a direct link between anthocyanins and tannins (which ultimately determine the texture of the wine).
She seeks a balance between the anthocanins measured and the amount of tannins released – by measuring both at the beginning of fermentation, she can make better decisions about when to press the skins and kernels during fermentation. And tasting alone does not always allow the best decision to be made regarding the use of tannins, because even at the beginning of fermentation, the sugar still masks the presence of tannins.
We tasted small Napa grown and produced Syrahs that are not balanced in their youth (and probably won’t be later), with robust tannins that can be rough and have a strong grip on the texture. This is not the Love Little Sirah style of the 70s – despite the abundance of fruit, these are elegant and balanced offerings.
2014 70’s Love Napa Valley Petite Sirah (sold out at the time of our tasting), unlike the following wines, is a blend of two blocks from the same Chiles Valley vineyard (100% vintage). Deep ruby in color, this wine is aromatically generous with clean, sweet blackberry and boysenberry aromas with oak as complementary and supporting characteristics, including notes of mocha, light cedar nuances and a subtle dark spice component. In this bouquet, however, it is mainly the expression of the fruit of the varieties that is important. This wine ages well and shows great balance almost 7 years after harvest. Aromas of plums and blackberries, black earth spice and a touch of pepper on the finish. The tannins have a rounded grip and are well integrated with a bit more structure than the tannins of the 2015. This wine won a gold medal at the International Women’s Wine Competition in 2020.
Love Napa Valley 2015 70’s Little Sirah has a deep purple color in the glass with purple edges around the rim. Thanks to the judicious use of additional oak, this wine concentrates on the grape variety and its fruity characteristics. This wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, but only in about 10% new barrels. Offers ripe yet elegant aromas of blackberry and boysenberry with delicate notes of cedar and dessert spices. Provides silky smooth tension from the moment it is picked up, all the way to the finish. It has aromas of black cherry and plum – with rich, layered flavors, but without a heavy grip on the texture. The tannins are attractive – soft and supple, with no sharp edges. The drinks are very tasty on their own and certainly have qualities that appeal to a broad palate.
And the lip print that formed the 0 in the 1970s is a kiss from Zhang – originally left on a piece of paper and then styled by his graphic designer to complete the label. In addition, wines in China are sold directly to consumers through a website. And as of 2022, private tastings are available – at the Maxville Winery location in Chiles Valley (a beautiful drive in the hills east of Napa Valley itself – about a 25-minute drive from St. Louis).
For more information and to order wines from this historically interesting and very limited producer, visit: www.70slovewine.com.
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