China’s leading enologist Li Demei is responsible for helping improve the quality of Chinese wines in the global stage with his various consulting work, particularly in China’s northwestern Ningxia and Xinjiang provinces. Voted as one of the 10 most influential wine consultants in the world by the drinks business in 2013, Li is the equivalent of Michel Rolland in China. He is credited as a leading force for improving wine quality at Chinese wineries including Tiansai Vineyards and He Lan Qing Xue winery, both of which have nabbed top prizes at international wine competitions. Graduating from Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in the 1980s, Li went on to study in Florida in the US and later Bordeaux, including a short stint at Chateau Palmer. Li now teaches enology at the Beijing University of Agriculture and is the vice general secretary of the China Alcoholic Drinks Association’s Wine Committee and vice general secretary of Chinese Association of Agricultural Science Societies’ wine division. Li speaks to dbHK about how a Domaine de Chevalier white that led him to a life of wine and his greatest vice.
What vintage are you?
1970. It’s an average vintage for wines, but it was the beginning of a difficult decade. It’s the same for people born in the 70s. There weren’t many upheavals, life was simple and quiet at the time.
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
A 1941 Domaine de Chevalier white. I drank the wine in April, 2002 at a blind tasting. The wine’s lively acidity still makes the wine very much alive, and when I learned it was a 61-year-old wine at the time, I was so shocked. It sparked my love for white wines.
What would you be as a wine?
I would say I am a “balanced, refined, light yet substantial” type of wine. It can be from Bordeaux, or Burgundy or even somewhere in China.
Where are you happiest?
I am happiest when I am travelling with my family no matter where we are.
What’s your greatest vice?
Laziness, especially when I have a glass of wine in my hand. I just don’t want to work when I am drinking.
Best advice you ever got?
Just be yourself. This is also my philosophy when approaching wines.
Your cellar’s underwater, which bottle would you dive in and save?
All the wines made from my vintage, 1970.
What’s the best and worst thing about the wine business?
The best part is it’s always full of challenges and there are always more wines that I have never tasted that I still have to try. The worst part is I drink and eat too much, and it’s quite a burden.
What’s on your wine bucket list?
This is too difficult. I can scratch my head and think about it for a long long time, still, I know I would miss some wines I really like. Rather than stress about making a list, I think it’s better to just pick up your glass, live in the moment and drink more great wines. So I didn’t make such a list, instead, I take every opportunity at tastings to drink more wines. Even when I came across a bad wine, I would dwell on it for a while and think to myself, “If there’s a chance, how could I avoid making such a winemaking mistake?”
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I think I would mainly invite winemakers, especially serious winemakers. I want to throw a big party, not a small party at home because my house is too small.
Personal satisfaction (Parker points – out of 100)？
88. This is a very auspicious number in China. And in Parker’s rating system, an 88-point wine is still considered an acceptable wine with good potential.
Which wine would you like served at your funeral?
I would serve wines from my vintage 1970, I would open them all and offer them to everyone to drink.