Norcal’s Historical Roots in Chinese Winemaking | Race and culture


In a toast that changed the world, Napa Valley wine helped mend the relationship between the United States and China. He also launched a new Chinese wine industry.

NAPA COUNTY, Calif. – A good glass of wine can bring people together, spark conversation, and in 1972 it even helped forge a new relationship between China and the United States.

In what is now known as “Toast to Peace,” President Richard Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai drank a glass of Napa Valley sparkling wine. Schramsberg Blanc De Blancs was among the first diplomatic conversations in 25 years and inspired China to start producing its own wine.

Chinese leaders loved Napa wine so much that the country launched its first large-scale wine production.

Grape wine in China had never been made on a large scale, so Premier Zhou enlisted the help of Napa winemaker Xinyue Zhang’s grandfather, Shengjie Yan.

“They created a wine research group and chose my grandfather to be the leader of this group and sent him to France to learn winemaking,” Zhang said. “He was the first red winemaker in China and he made the first bottle of red wine in China.”

Thanks to the work of Zhang’s grandfather in the 1970s, winemaking became a multi-billion dollar industry in China. His palette shaped the taste of wine in his country, and now Zhang is working to introduce the Chinese palette to Napa under his label called 70s Love.

“My grandfather is 70 years old and he learned winemaking in the 70s, so I called him 70s Love,” Zhang said.

Ever since she was little, Zhang has followed in her grandfather’s footsteps.

“Instead of going to kindergarten, my job was to stay in the cave, lift the bottles and move them around,” she said.

Zhang attended UC Davis to learn the science behind Western wine making.

“A good winemaker is part scientist and part artist. So a lot of our work is scientific and a lot of it is artistic,” Zhang said.

For Zhang, science and art blend using both her Chinese and American palette. She says her wines pair well with the spicy, plant-based Chinese diet and the fatty, meat-rich American diet.

“Because I make wine here in Napa Valley, I don’t make Chinese-style wine. It’s a Napa wine,” Zhang said.

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Yes, Zhang’s wine is a Napa wine, but it has a Chinese influence. An influence that is not new to the Napa and Sonoma County area.

“Part of Napa’s winemaking history was Chinese involvement,” Zhang said.

After the California Gold Rush, Chinese laborers planted many of the first vineyards and dug many wine cellars. However, most of these workers were expelled by the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880s. But Zhang says more than a century later, Chinese students are returning to the California wine industry.

“I graduated from UC Davis, and I see more and more Chinese students studying winemaking, and I’m happy to see more faces from Asian countries,” Zhang said.

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As in 1972, wine helped open a dialogue between two nations. Today, Zhang hopes her wine can do the same.

“I want to build a bridge between the two countries,” Zhang said.

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