You probably have heard of or even tried wines from Asian countries like Japan, Thailand, Indonesia or India. But what about Taiwan? I recently came across Weightstone Vineyard Estate & Winery, based in Taichung, which has quite a touching story.
Winemaking was introduced to Taiwan in the 1950s when the nation was under Japanese rule. The primary grape varieties were Black Queen and Golden Muscat, both heat-resistant hybrid varieties suitable for a subtropical climate, developed in Japan and the USA respectively. In the country’s prime, there were some 5,200 hectares of vineyard in Taiwan.
Weightsone’s story began in 2010 when Taiwan Agricultural Research Station developed a new grape variety called Musann Blanc, which caught the eye of Ben Yang. At that time, grape growers were switching crops to more lucrative fruits because the Taiwanese government had stopped subsidies to them in 1996. But Ben had the vision to make wine from this 100% Taiwanese variety using modern technology. He eventually found an ideal vineyard site of 4.6 hectares at 480 metres altitude, once the shoreline of an ancient lake, in Puli (埔里) in the south-east of Taichung. There were still stone fishing weights carved by aboriginal fishermen there – hence Ben named the winery Weightstone.
With the help of a team of consultants from Napa Valley, Puli vineyard was established and planted with Musann Blanc. Unfortunately, Ben passed away in 2012 before the first wine was bottled, and the responsibility of carrying out his mission fell to his daughter, Vivian Yang.
Educated in the USA, Vivian does not have a viticultural or winemaking background, but this also means she is burden free and can explore the options brought to her by the land and the grapes. She focuses on three grape varieties: Musann Blanc, Golden Muscat and Black Queen. All inherently have a low sugar level and high acidity, which means making fruity still wine is a challenge. Some wineries may have opted to produce fortified wine in this case, but in contrast, Vivian decided to make sparkling wine made in the traditional champagne method, thus turning the grapes’ seemingly negative low sugar and high acidity characteristics to her advantage.
Vivian’s hard work paid off. In 2014, the winery produced its first vintage with three wines: Blanc de Blancs (Golden Muscat and Musann Blanc blend) and Gris de Noirs Rosé (Black Queen and Musann Blanc) sparkling wines and Musann Blanc white wine. The wines were released in 2016 and won accolades from Taiwan’s fine-dining scene plus medals at international competitions. Weightstone was also voted as one of the most creative wineries in the world by World Finance in 2017.
Today, Weightstone has expanded to making some 10,000 bottles of seven wines from grapes sourced from four vineyards. But with only around 60 hectares of land under vines in the whole of Taiwan, winemaking there remains a niche industry.
Some wine lovers may view hybrid grapes as being inferior, but with careful vineyard management and suitable winemaking techniques, they also have the potential to turn into lovely wines. Winston Wong, the founder of SENS Wine Cellar and importer of Weightstone, said his customers love indigenous grape varieties because of their authenticity and uniqueness. Japanese and Thai wines are at the forefront, and Taiwanese wine can add to the diversity of Asian wines to enhance consumers’ wine and food-pairing experiences.
I had the chance to try Weightstone Blanc de Blancs, made with 66% Golden Muscat and 34% Musann Blanc in the traditional champagne method. The first whiff of lychee and stone fruits reminded me of aromatic Gewürtztraminer, but it has extra herbal notes. The bright acidity and relatively low alcohol content at 10.5% make its ideal to pair with Asian deep-fried dishes served with sweet chilli sauce. This wine is currently served at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.
With only limited production, Weightstone wine is on allocation, and most bottles are reserved by top restaurants in Taiwan. SENS is its sole overseas distributor. If you, like me, are intrigued by Weightstone’s story and exotic wine, try to get ahold of a bottle and taste it for yourself. I admire the dedication of Vivian and can’t wait to visit Puli vineyard when we are free to travel again.
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