For Napa winemaker Xinyue Zhang, red wine has been a source of celebration for as long as she can remember.
Born in the northern Chinese province of Heibei, Zhang is the third-generation in her family to pursue winemaking, a career path forged by her grandfather, Yan Shengjie — China’s first modern winemaker.
In the 1970s, Yan was enlisted by then-Premier Zhou Enlai to improve winemaking in China after former U.S. President Richard Nixon impressed him with a bottle of Schramsberg Vineyards sparkling wine from Napa Valley.
During her childhood, Zhang said she used to “skip kindergarten to work with him in the cellar.”
“I always knew I wanted to be a winemaker,” said Zhang, who produces small-lot petite sirah for her wine label 70s Love in Napa Valley. “I named my winery to show my appreciation of my grandfather’s influence and to remember the friendship between the Chinese and U.S.”
Like many Chinese wine drinkers, Zhang said she prefers red wine over white, a popular opinion she attributes to China’s cultural connection to the color red.
Traditionally used during Chinese New Year and other celebrations, red is considered an auspicious symbol of joy, luck and prosperity.
“That’s why we drink red wine on Chinese New Year,” explained Zhang. “It’s a time to think about the things that make us happy.”
In celebration of Lunar New Year on Feb. 10, we reached out to Asian Americans in the Sonoma and Napa wine communities to find out what wines they’ll be pouring during the festivities.
This year, Zhang anticipates pouring her Napa Valley petite sirah alongside traditional dumplings filled with pork, Chinese chives, woodear mushrooms and fresh shrimp.
“But petite sirah isn’t picky,” she added. “You can drink it with anything.”
Vanessa Wong, winemaker at Peay Vineyards, Annapolis
At Peay Vineyards along the western Sonoma Coast, winemaker Vanessa Wong is known for producing ethereal pinot noir, cool-climate syrah and other small-lot wines.
For Chinese New Year, Wong prepares a lavish feast for her family of 36(!), which takes her all week to complete.
“It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding to carry on the tradition of my paternal grandmother and mother who would each host a dinner every year when they were alive,” said Wong. “Last year, I got many family members to help me out, which was really fun. But sometimes I give myself a break and we all go to a Chinese restaurant!”
During the meal, Wong likes to pour Peay’s Maritima estate chardonnay, which boasts crisp acidity and bright flavors that elevate her steamed fish with ginger and scallions. Peay’s estate pinot noirs — Pomarium, Scallop Shelf and Ama — pair particularly well with the umami flavors of the hoisin and 5-spice aromas of Cantonese roast duck or squab, she said.
“Food and cuisine are the most important to our culture and to my family,” Wong said. We preserve the togetherness of family when we gather to share a meal together. I’m delighted to incorporate Peay Wines into that tradition.”
George Zhang, vintner/proprietor at ShunYi Cellars, Sebastopol
Born in Jinan, China, George Zhang founded ShunYi Cellars in 2019 to create a bridge between people of different cultures through a shared passion for wine.
With winemaker Byron Kosuge at the helm, ShunYi produces chardonnay and pinot noir from the Central Coast and a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, among others.
For Lunar New Year, Zhang’s family gathers to make dumplings from scratch, which he likes to pair with ShunYi’s Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noir.
“The pinot pairs well with most East Asian cuisines because its drinkable at a young age,” said Zhang. “It has a very aromatic bouquet, with abundant red fruit flavors and a long, smooth finish. We named it “Chong Feng,” which means to ‘reunite.’ It’s the perfect expression of what Lunar New Year is all about.”
April Xie, co-proprietor at Ektimo Vineyards, Sebastopol
Located in the Green Valley AVA of the Russian River Valley, Ektimo Vineyards was founded by Dominic Xie, who acquired the former Cahill Estate and winery in 2012.
Today, Ektimo is co-owned by his daughter, April Xie, who helps manage the winery’s production of clone-focused pinot noir, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon — the latter of which is very popular in China, said Xie.
“Most Chinese people prefer the heavier body and higher alcohol content of cabernet sauvignon,” said Xie. “Many think pinot noir is too light. But I think it’s perfect for Lunar New Year.”
To celebrate the holiday, Xie recommends Ektimo’s Mount Eden pinot noir, which she believes will pair well with her family’s traditional meat dumplings and menu of “many dishes.”
Jane Jiang, CEO/proprietor at Duncan Peak Wines, Hopland
Native to Chengdu, in China’s Sichuan Province, Jane Jiang was raised in a city renowned for its vibrant food culture and spicy cuisine.
For Lunar New Year’s Eve, her grandparents prepared authentic Sichuan cuisine, for her extended family. The meal’s centerpiece is a communal ‘hot pot’ that invites family members to add their choice of raw ingredients.
“The hot-pot experience is not just about food; it’s about togetherness and warmth, especially on a chilly evening,” said Jiang, who owns Duncan Peak Wines with her brother, Max Jiang. “It’s common for the elders to playfully remind the younger ones to watch their food, like telling them to retrieve their potato slices before they dissolve in the broth.”
To serve alongside the spicy meal, Jiang recommends Duncan Peak’s alicante bouchet rosé, a fruity, off-dry wine that pairs well with Asian cuisine—"especially hot pot,” she said.
“Lunar New Year is a special time when all my family members gather for a grand celebration,” said Jiang. “It’s a night filled with sharing, caring and fun.”
This article was originally published in The Press Democrat.