Dragon's Hollow LogoIntoWine recently caught up with Dragon's Hollow President and Founder, David Henderson to discuss wine  and his thoughts on current trends in the wine industry.

Why China?

The truth of the story is China picked me, I did not necessarily pick China.  I originally went to China in the ‘70s to manufacture packaging material for the Chinese as they began to  unearth and export Chinese antiquities.   I also started a small engineering school to teach distribution and industrial packaging to the newly opening China. While in China in the early 1980’s I constantly heard comments from all the ex-patriots in Beijing complaining about not having access to imported food and wine.  So in 1988 I created Montrose Food and Wine and obtained the first direct license to import wines into China.   Montrose would eventually represent many famous international wine labels and would also take on the role of teaching people in China how to drink and appreciate wines.    I am still a major shareholder in Montrose Food and Wine which remains one of the largest importers and distributors of wine and spirits in China www.MontroseChina.com & Hong Kong www.Montrose.com.hk today.   In many articles written about my time in China, writers have called me “the father of the present day Chinese wine industry”.

What was it about the region, climate, and terroir in China made this venture attractive to you?

In the mid-1990’s I decided that either building a vineyard or cooperating with one of the larger producers was where the Chinese wine industry was headed. At the time I was hosting some of our best suppliers from the US, including Kendall Jackson and Robert Mondavi,  on a tour of China searching for a suitable site for a vineyard.  When the jet landed in NingXia our search for the ideal location to grow wine grapes in China was over.   This would lead to the creation of the Dragon’s Hollow vineyards and the first premium label wines being produced  in China for export.  

The latitude at that location was the same as Napa (38 degrees North) and it was located 600 miles northwest of Beijing toward the Mongolian border.  The farmers in that area had been accustomed to growing table grapes and were able to easily learn the art of growing distinctly different grapes for winemaking.  This location in China has1800 hours of sunshine during the growing season and because the elevation is 3,500 feet above the sea level with very dry summers and warm winds there is virtually no mold or mildew.   Today Helan Mountain is one of the first Appellation Controlees of the seven currently recognized by the Chinese Government.   This area could claim to be organic as no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are needed or used.   The artesian springs well water is used exclusively on all our export vineyard properties supplying ample water for the irrigation of the vineyards

Describe your winemaking philosophy:

We believe that great wine begins with great vines. So for our initial vineyard property we chose eight varietals of the finest vines from Bordeaux France.  The natural environment of Helan Mountain appellation was ideal for nurturing the finest quality wine grapes. We recruited some of the finest experts in viticulture, vineyard management, and the wine making process to produce the best wines produced in China today. 100% of our wines come from the Helan Shan estates.

How have the points systems like Parker’s impacted you as a winemaker/producer?

We have to utmost respect for what individuals like Mr. Parker have brought to the industry and wine ratings.  However if wines are to be judged against one fixed scale, every wine would be the same. Wines get their distinctive characteristics from not only the grape varietal but also the terrior and the natural wine growing conditions. Dragon’s Hollow wines stay true to their varietal characteristics while offering a very clean straight forward wine. Our winemaking philosophy is to produce well balanced wines with alcohol levels at or below 13% to deliver a great food wine made for the Chinese cuisine. 

China is not known for wine production. What challenges have you faced?

When we started China Fine Wines very few Chinese had ever had a grape wine in their life. So our challenge was not only training the consumer but also training potential wine makers what makes a good wine. Most of our first employees had never had a glass of wine in their life until Dragon’s Hollow. China has had a very long history in winemaking, but mostly for political and economic reasons the China wine industry did not start to grow until the early 1990’s.  Actual records indicate China cultivated grapes and made some wines as early as 206 BCE.   The Zhang Bi-Shi and Zhangyu Wineries claim a date of 1892 and would thus be the first in modern times to make grape wines in China. By 1953 there were 8 wineries in China and this number slowly grew to be 100 wineries by 1978 and over 400 today.

When it comes to winemaking, what's one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started?

There were no rules in China. China was and still is a developing country so when it came to appellation controls there were none. Banking, wine knowledge, restaurants other than five star hotels did not exist so there was not really market for selling wine.   We became more of a wine culture and education company in the beginning, eventually the selling side caught up. Today it is different and as Berry Bros and Rudd have been quoted:  “They have predicted that China in 2058 will lead the world in wine production and consumption and will be the only country to challenge the Premier Crus of France and Bordeaux for supremacy.”

What inspired the Dragon’s Hollow name?

Where we are located is a very peaceful valley on the Eastern side of the Helan Mountains, and we wanted a name that would embrace this feeling in our wines. The actual registered name of Dragon’s Hollow in Chinese is the Proud Dragon in the Cloudy Valley.

Tell us about your wines:

Cabernet Sauvignon: Vintage 2008  Alcohol 12.5% 

Bright  ruby color with purple hue. This Cabernet Sauvignon delivers fresh and fruity aromas of blackcurrant, viola and berries, with hints of all spice, toasted mushrooms.  You will enjoy the deep fruit flavors in this full bodied wine, leading to a long finish. The striking tannins show a perfect balance for future aging potential of this wine.

Merlot: Vintage 2008 Alcohol 13%

Clean  garnet color, round and intense fruity aroma, with hints of spice and jams. The Merlot is rich and full bodied, well structured with nice tannin. The fruity, spicy and new barrel oaky flavors give this wine a lot of personalities.

Chardonnay: Vintage 2008 Alcohol 12.5 %

Very bright straw yellow color, with fresh fruit aroma dominated by Lime flower, fried almond and lemon. This is a typical Chardonnay, fresh and pure taste, smooth like silk.

Riesling: Vintage 2008 Alcohol 12.5 %

Golden yellow color, the mixed floral aroma lingering freshly, with hints of honey and Pagoda tree flowers.  Touches of hints of Rose and lemon and plants.  This Riesling has developed a nice buttery flavor, and very round delicate structure.

A hot topic in wine circles is the "Parkerization" of wines. Some people claim his 100 point scoring system has been an enabling factor for consumers as they navigate the endless array of brands from which they can choose. Others claim his influence has negatively impacted wine quality as producers are increasingly crafting their wines to earn a high score from Parker at the expense of making the best wine they can with the fruit and resources they have available. Given this, what are your thoughts on Parker and the 100 point scoring system?

I truly cannot be critical of Robert Parker since he has brought so much wine recognition to the industry worldwide. My only comment is that each country should be judged independently on their individual merits. If we all believe that terrior and climate makes a difference, then each country should be given a chance to be judged independently.  The best wines from France, the best wines from the USA, etc, judged on their merits.  If every ski mountain can have a black, blue, and green ski run why can’t we have the best wine from China and not compare it to France, or in Mr. Parker’s taste, to California?

Rising wine alcohol levels are a hot topic these days in wine circles.  What are your thoughts on the subject?

We produce nothing above 13%.  Our goal is to produce wines in the 12.5% range to better compliment food.

What are your long-term goals for the Dragon’s Hollow?

Our mission statement is to be the innovative producer and market leader bringing the international lifestyle of Chinese wine to the world. We are committed to strong brand development and excellence in quality value wine products. 

Lastly, where can your wines be purchased?


Our web site has many customer locations on and off premises.