With Chinese wine on the up and up, and vineyards in Ningxia, Xinjiang and Shandong producing bottles that can compete with the best, there are surely many stories to hear about the nascent wine industry’s fledgling steps, occasionally ungainly as they might be. This book, A Decent Bottle of Win in China, is a fine example of that, as a Yorkshireman decides after business success in China to set up a winery from scratch in a valley in Shandong province. That in itself might be brave enough. But author Bradford-born Chris Ruffle and wife Tiffany, from Taiwan, also decide to build a Scottish style castle (rather than the usual French chateau), having had experience of renovating a crumbling castle in the Scottish Highlands and wishing to also make the winery a destination for weddings and events. But as they were starting from scratch, with only a taste for wine and a perhaps fortunately minimal idea of the difficulties they would face, endless difficulties and roadblocks lay ahead.
The book is therefore filled with endless business missteps and pratfalls, of staff disputes and interactions with officialdom, of inclement bureaucracy and weather, and misapprehension, bungling and coaxing. A Decent Bottle of Wine in China thus is a sort of Year And A Half In Province travelogue of the Ruffles’ struggles in a strange land. Readers will enjoy a certain schadenfreude as every sort of misfortune seems to bedevil their ambitions, while anyone with more than a passing interest in wine will greatly enjoy the struggle to bring their ambitions to fruition.
As the book is a memoir of building the winery and castle, it is organised by time rather than by theme. This makes it episodic, which can work well when there is dramatic stuff going on (such as the failed first harvest), but perhaps less interesting at other times (such as discussions of yields). Also, while well edited, the writing is clearly by a keen amateur rather than a professional. This doesn’t inhibit the book, but sometimes you wish for greater scene setting and characterisation.
Published in Business Tianjin