Drink like a baron at Shandong’s Scottish Castle

 

The Scottish Castle at dusk.   

 

Nick Yates is relaxing with the views.

 

 

 

 

 

Drink like a baron 

at Shandong’s

Scottish Castle

 

 

 

By Nick Yates  |  CHINA FEATURES TRAVEL

 

 

A true curio of a hotel is a worthy draw to stay in east China’s wine country.

 

 

Pulling up to our accommodation, we could easily have been in medieval Edinburgh rather than east China’s Shandong Province in 2013. A horse-drawn carriage may have been more appropriate transport than the careworn SUV that served for our airport transfer.

 

My fiancée and I had come to stay two nights at the Scottish Castle, a recreation of Scotland’s most famous architecture that is set somewhat incongruously in fields near Yantai, one of China’s many exploding coastal economies.

 

In many ways, though, the Scottish Castle is typical of Chinese tourism and leisure developments that will appear bizarre to foreign eyes. A side project of Treaty Port Vineyards, it is designed as a premium retreat to let guests explore the castle’s surrounding winery and sample its produce. Most of those more recently moneyed Chinese that such attractions tend to attract have some unusual tastes in novelty and the exotic. A faux European fort is perfect.

 

It also draws a smattering of curious expats, many amused and intrigued in equal measure by this aspect of Chinese culture. Hence our visit. And the East-West blend will be strengthened on November 2, when the castle runs a Guy Fawkes Night. This British festival will bring fireworks, a bonfire and special autumnal food to Shandong.

 

Anyone following in our footsteps for Guy Fawkes or any other occasion should have no fear: this is not some Disneyland piece of plastic but a fun hotel with a good deal of taste and modern convenience. We stayed in the “Baron’s Room,” all four-poster beds and powerful concealed air conditioners installed for the scorching summer in this part of the world.

 

Amid the winding staircases, flickering lamplight and tapestries are a snooker room and a well-stocked library. The many turrets and ramparts provide both perfect suntraps and panoramic views of your lush surroundings. While the castle is a quirky romantic destination, it is also marketed to families. Indeed, kids could have great fun playing knights in shining armor among the nooks and crannies.

 

We were more interested in the adult business of drink and relaxation though. Wandering the grounds and getting a tour of the winery provided a real eye-opener to the burgeoning Chinese wine market.

 

Having toured similar facilities in the likes of France and Australia, I found it strange to see so many disparate grape varieties so close to each other. Usually, in those established wine zones, producers are fairly specialist. In this part of Shandong, however, headstone-like signs marked the contents of each plot of land. Here was Merlot. Some 50 yards down the road was Syrah. A little further on was Muscat. They kept coming: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, 13 in all.

 

Later, we found out why. Running us through a tasting of some of Treaty Port’s finest, the head winemaker explained that he and his team had indeed taken almost a scattergun approach to production. Growing grapes and making wine is of course relatively new to China. While the climate and soil in many areas is broadly suited to viticulture, what I hadn’t realized was that the conditions are so untested that vintners are planting lots of different grape varieties and experimenting to see what works best.

 

As we sipped a gummy dessert wine, it was clear that there have certainly been some hits. During the tasting, our surroundings were consistent with the unusual overall setting. The real business of the winemaking takes place in a hangar-like structure that a James Bond villain could happily use as a base. It incorporates part of an old quarry, with the cliff face left exposed. There are plenty of elevated metal walkways and even a scientific lab –- perfect for maniacal experiments. Or just running quality control on wine.

 

We continued our own amateur quality control over dinner in the medieval-style banqueting hall. There have been plenty of horror stories about Chinese wine, but Treaty Port is a serious business successfully rewriting many of them. The wines zing in all the right places, and at the Scottish Castle, we found them to be complemented by tasty food and friendly service.

 

The staff are also able to organize trips to nearby natural hot springs, the historic Penglai Pavilion or colonial Yantai. Whether you’re a China resident seeking a refreshing break from the city or a visitor looking to experience a true China curio, this could be the place for you.

 

 

 

*  Photos on this webpage provided by Nick Yates

 

 

 

 

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Drink like a baron at Shandong’s Scottish Castle

 

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