Lenz Moser: White wine, Grüner in China and climate change

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

24 January 2020

Earlier this week, Austrian winemaker Lenz Moser of China's leading Chateau Changyu Moser XV, brought some of the People’s Republic flavours to the UK wine trade, as he launched his new oaked white Cabernet Sauvignon.

To add a little more spice to the launch, Moser offered attendees a chance to compare his wines to some of the world’s best, including Opus One and Château Leoville Barton.

With Chinese New Year just one day away (happy new year everyone, by the way), we caught up with him and talked about the challenges of making wine in China, the country's rising interest in white wine, and the effects of climate change on the Ningxia region.

At what stage is the Chinese fine wine industry?

It’s at the very beginning. It’s basically like Napa 40 years ago. My wine has only been in the market for three years, but I see that people are listening to us, so it’s growing quickly. Media attention is helping, considering that media work much faster than in the past.

But still, making wine in China is not like making wine in Austria. It’s another galaxy. It’s a country with 5,000 years of history. 

You're comparing your Grand Vin to Opus One  it's a pretty bold move…

This is the second vintage of my Grand Vin [2016] and Opus is 40 years old, so I’m not taking this too seriously, I’m not an idiot. But I still want people to see how the wine behaves in the company of these fine labels.

When they hired me they told me: ‘You have to make sure you’re the best in China’ – which by the way isn’t that difficult because there are 50 or so producers – ‘but also be top in the world,’ which is a little more complicated, but that’s what I’m trying to achieve.

We’ve got USPs: a new appellation [Ningxia], a Cabernet style that is different from French or American Cabs, but especially our story. I mean, China cooperates with someone like me, who’s from Austria and comes from a family with 15 generations of winemaking experience...

Now our wines are in all good restaurants around the globe; they’re for people who want to try new things. And of course you’ll find them in many Asian-themed restaurants, that’s obvious.

You’re launching a second white wine label, again a white Cabernet Sauvignon. Why?

Because I’ve got only Cab and no white grapes, it’s as simple as that. I’ve got 250ha, and they’re all Cabernet Sauvingon.

Making white wine in China is tricky. In China, red is the colour of power, so you have to give something back if you’re taking the colour away, and I think what my white Cab has is a great story. 

It’s doing really well, especially thanks to women. Many of them have studied abroad and their taste is becoming more and more influenced by western trends. 

Today we’ve released the first vintage [2017] of our white Cab’s oaked version. I’m already very happy with it, but the next vintage (which I’ve just blended two weeks ago and will go on the market after the summer) is going to be even better. 

Have you thought of making white wine from white grapes?

Yes, of course. This year I’m bringing the first cuttings of Grüner [Veltliner] to China, so let’s see if it works. I think it will. I really see a bright future for white wine in China, plus Grüner fits any food.

Chardonnay would work well too, I know it, because the Chinese are already familiar with the grape. Gewürztraminer would work with the food, but it just doesn’t sell.

Is Ningxia suffering from the globe's changing climate?

Initially I didn’t think that the climate change was having any affect on us at all, we’re in such an extreme place. But then I did some digging and found out that in Ningxia the average temperature went up 2°C in 30 years, and I was super shocked. In January it’s usually -25°C, but when I landed last time all of a sudden we were above 0°C during the day!

So it’s certainly affecting us and we have to do something. We’re planning to use lighter bottles in the future, down 30% in weight for the top wine and 20% for all entry level ones.

Are you going to change your approach in the vineyard too?

Yes, we’re starting the conversion to biodynamic this year. Organic is known in China, but biodynamic not that much – we would be pioneers in this sense. Organic would be quite easy to do but I thought we should go all the way and do biodynamic. 

With the climate that we have, which is basically desertic, with little or no rain during the growing season, it’s relatively easy to avoid diseases.

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