Let's be honest. How many native Chinese winemakers do you see globally?
Judges, critics, certified educators, stewards, connoisseurs and bloggers. Yes, there are many locally and internationally.
But a Chinese winemaker in a town of 6,500, located in the deep Southwestern part of Australia? A Chinese winemaker of a 5-red star winery? A Chinese winemaker who has a decade of experience over multiple vintages, different regions and varied grape varieties?
Michael Ng is, in my humble opinion, a head-turner in the industry. And if you leave aside the crass, superficial differentiation, I continue to find a set of captivating qualities.
During my time at Rockcliffe, I spent a couple of hours with Michael. His steadfast commitment to the daily labors of the winery meant our interaction was limited. But the time we shared left me with a deep, meaningful impression.
Whilst the romantic allure of winemaking has diminished compared to the time he first started, Michael still carries the same conviction that led to his adventure into this business 10 years ago.
Michael tells me that if romance is all you see and all you embrace when entering the business, you won't last very long. Its a grind.
As I sat down with Michael, his conviction is highly visible. His demeanor oscillate as we weave in and out of winemaking topics. Seemingly reserved, shy and laid back, he becomes outwardly passionate, articulate and confident as he elaborated on winemaking techniques, the promise of this year's vintage and the intricate approach to test and ensure balanced acidity and sweetness in the wines as they mature.
We moved on to pairing wines with Chinese food. His speech quickens, quickly identifying how various Chinese dishes and wines combine to exciting effects.
All the while, as we chat, Michael maintains focus on the scientific experiment in front of him. The bunsen burner unlocking the fixed acid in the wine sample whilst free acids are tested in parallel. You cannot mistake the conviction in him.
We wrapped up our conversation and it was time to take a photograph of him. Michael's reserved and shy nature returns in less than a heartbeat. Well, its my fault really. Blame the photographer because Michael deserves a far better photo!!
Michael's adventure carries a strong momentum and I wish him great success.
Some standard Q&A below...
How would you describe the regional style of Great Southern?
The Great Southern is blessed with cold ocean breezes from the Southern Ocean and it experiences warm, daytime temperatures and cool nighttime temperatures. These are the ideal conditions for exciting, intricate flavors to develop in the grapes. As such, the wines from these grapes are not only packed full of flavors, but are elegant and have distinctive mineral finish on the palate.
It's certainly very refreshing to see a winemaker such as yourself here in the Great Southern. Tell us how did this come about?
Back in 2006 I was doing a research paper on Rieslings in Australia as part of my studies. The Great Southern came up many times as a notable region. I love Riesling and have never been to the Great Southern. Wanting to experience the region. I put on my backpack and got to Denmark in Nov 2007, pursuing a job in making Rieslings. 10 years on, I’m still here and living my dreams at Rockcliffe. I’ve not looked back.
Tell us abit about the distinct styles you are seeking for the various Rockcliffe wines?
With the Single Site wines it is all about site expression. We acquired the best parcels of grapes from the best vineyards in the region and make wines of unparalleled styles that speak to the site and also the region.
Third Reef wines are about regional expression. We endeavor to communicate the unique characteristics of the Great Southern region. For example, Great Southern Rieslings hold a distinctive minerality and savoury finish.
Quarram Rocks range of wines are similar to Third Reef but with a focus on blending different varieties together to bring out the best complement of such varieties.
Can you advise us on how we should match wines with the wide variety of Singaporean dishes?
Don’t be afraid, give it a try! When it comes to matching Asian food with wine, it has always been challenging as wine was never part of Asian culture until now. Singaporean foods tend to have a focus on sweet, sour, hot and spicy elements. Dishes with sweet, sour flavours can be matched with unoaked white wines such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. On the other hand, meaty dishes with hot and spicy elements can be matched with red wines … well, as long as the spiciness level is not too high.