An architect-turned-vintner, Liu Hai is the owner of Legacy Peak Estate in China’s premium wine region, Ningxia, making high-altitude wines at 1,234 metres above sea level. The winery’s Cabernet and Merlot vines were first planted in 1997 by Liu’s father, making it one of a few Chinese wineries with old vines. In 2000, Liu took over the winery and launched its first vintage with a Legacy Peak Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot 2011 in 2014. The first wine of its inaugural vintage was awarded a gold medal at the China Wine& Spirits Awards. In an interview with dbHK, the vintner revealed the challenges of running a wine business in China and his ambition to make wines that live on for generations after generations.
What vintage are you?
What bottle sparked your love of wine?
What sparked my love for wine was not particularly a specific bottle of wine, but my love for Ningxia’s land. I hope to make high quality wines from this promising land, full of excellent terroir characters, and taste the wines myself.
What would you be as a wine?
I am probably a relatively serious, low-key and traditional wine like an old Bordeaux blend. Obviously it’s not the kind that impresses with a sharp and fragrant nose but a humble wine that can age for years and taste even better with time.
Where are you happiest?
In the vineyards. My brother and I helped my father take care of the vines when we were still very young. It’s almost a meditative place for me. I am fully immersed in imagination when taking a stroll in the vineyards. Working between these vines, I am amazed at how they can communicate with and interpret local terroir.
What’s your greatest vice?
Being stubborn and demanding. But I really don’t think this is a vice. Each coin has two sides, just like every personality trait is binary too. A moderate amount of stubbornness is my love for my winery, and I am demanding when it comes to wine quality. As a matter of fact, I am quite stubborn and demanding outside of wine business as well. Sometimes it could turn people off and become unbearable.
Best advice you ever got?
When having a hard time making a decision, think about whether your mother will be happy about your decision or not.
Before Legacy Peak brand was created, our vineyards suffered financial losses for several years. My mother was really sad after learning that we were planning to sell the vineyards and she was determined to stop the deal. After seeing my mother’s determination, all of a sudden, I felt like I needed to take over the vineyards and really develop the winery. It turns out my mother was right.
Your cellar’s underwater, which bottle would you dive in and save?
Ningxia is a water-deprived region, and we have really sound and secure measures to protect our cellar, so the chances of it getting underwater are slim. If by any chance it’s underwater, I think I will rescue the wines made from old vines.
What’s the best and worst thing about the wine business?
The wine industry is really diverse and it’s tied up with food, society, culture and lifestyle.
To some degree, wine consumption reflects a country’s social, economical and cultural environment and development. The wine market is booming. Wineries with hundreds of years of history are rejuvenated with new changes, and new wineries are making unique wines. Despite different styles, people’s appreciation toward wine is growing and they are becoming more and more accepting toward diversity.
I am learning new things from every aspect and sector of the wine industry. But if I have to say something about the worst part, it has to be the production and sale of fake wines, which we must condemn strongly．
What’s on your wine bucket list?
All the wines made by Legacy Peak are my must-drink wines every year. They are like tree rings that mark our every year’s growth. The wines include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Family Heritage and Kalavinka. In the process of learning, I also drink wines from the Old World and New World, and compare them with wines made by us from Legacy Peak. This kind of comparison is not only limited to quality and style, it also helps to perfect domestic winemaking style.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I would invite wine experts and fellow winemakers from mainland China as well as some international wine critics. I would invite them to talk about Chinese wines’ development and future outlook.
Personal satisfaction (Parker points – out of 100)？
75 points. I crossed over to wine industry after years in architecture. From knowing nothing about wine to owning my own winery, I had to invest a lot of hard work. I like to think that both myself and my winery are quite lucky. I think Legacy Peak’s wines and China’s overall market still have great room for growth, so I am not complacent. After all, we want to make wines that like our winery’s Chinese name –留世 – indicates can live on generations after generations. As owner of our winery, laying a solid foundation is essential. At the moment, we enjoy a bit of fame at home and abroad, and we will grow with the market. We will try our best to inject new life into our domestic wine industry.
Which wine would you like served at your funeral?
Legacy Peak Family Heritage. Although not sure about which vintage to serve, but I am hoping it would be a wine with lots of spices, firm tannins and different flavours. Good ripeness in grapes bring about high alcohol level. The purpose is to get guests drunk to help lessen their pain felt when losing a dear friend and a family relative.