When you think of wine, France, Italy, California or Spain most likely come to mind, but what about China? The country is one of the wine world’s hottest topics – and for a good reason. China now has more vineyards than France and has become one of the world’s fastest-growing wine markets. Keep reading to learn more!
China and its grapes
Though the nation has a grape-growing tradition that dates back to the fourth century B.C., winemaking in its modern form came to China in 1892, when Changyu, its oldest winery, was established in Shandong province. The industry didn’t experience any significant growth, up until the economic reforms of the 1980s and the expansion of personal wealth in the 2000s, boosting the national appetite for wine – which has more than doubled in the past 20 years.
According to the International Organization of Vine and Wine [http://www.oiv.int/oiv/cms/404?lang=en], China now has more vineyards than France, thus becoming the second-largest vineyard area worldwide after Spain. However, that does not necessarily equate to more production, which is why Chinese wines still remain an obscure concept for the international wine world – the majority of the country’s vineyard area is used for cultivating table grapes and dried fruit. Although wine drinking is still a relatively new habit in China, sales are on the rise and China strives to offer competitive wines locally as well as internationally.
One of the country’s main characteristics is the great variety of both climate and soil, with several regions responsible for wine production: Shandong, Hebei, Tianjin, Yunnan (where LVMH has invested in a new winery), Shanxi, Xinjiang and Ningxia. This last region has drawn a lot of attention for quality wine potential, and is even sometimes being referred to as China’s Napa Valley.
Ningxia has ideal grape-growing conditions, similar to locations such as Argentina or Chile: plenty of sun, the Yellow River irrigation, 1,100 meters of altitude and hot dry summers… except for its extremely harsh winters, so cold that the vines have to be buried in order to survive until spring.
China has cultivated indigenous vine species for over 1,000 years, but wine production truly took off at the end of the 19th century, when more than 100 Vitis vinifera vines were introduced from Europe. Today, China is basically a red wine country, with the main varieties being the international Cabernet and Merlot, key vines of Bordeaux. China also widely plants Cabernet Gernischt – a relatively new name in the wine world – which DNA profiling has shown to be identical to Carménère, a grape popular in Chile, but in China these wines are said to have a somewhat unattractive green steak, peppery flavor. On the white side, the nation is known for its wine made from the local table grape longyan (translated by “dragon eyes”), which is slightly similar to a Gewürztraminer.
Where to taste?
Jade Valley Wine & Resort – Established by Qingyun Ma – one of China’s most influential artchitects – in 2000, the estate sits on the southern slope of a northern valley in the Qinling mountains and includes its own 20-hectare vineyard. The winery produces 100,000 bottles annually focusing on the following varieties: the reds Pinot Noir (which the winery is most renowned for), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot; and the whites Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Jade Valley also includes a resort that hosts 50 rooms ranging from private villas to courtyard houses and hostel – very convenient if you are looking for where to stay. To read the winery’s full story, head to the California Sunday Magazine!