Rot is top concern for Ningxia after vineyard floods

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Concern over the heavy rain and flooding that destroyed more than 100 hectares of Ningxia vineyards has now given way to fears of rot amid humid conditions.

Unprecedented heavy rain hit part of Ningxia Helan Mountain East (see map), one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, last week.

Image: Floods hit Ningxia vineyards
Image: Area most hit by floods in Helan Mountain East

More than 200mm of rain fell within seven hours, which led to flooding that destroyed 133ha (2430mu) of vineyards. Xixia and Helan were among those hit hardest, said officials.

Nearby Chateau Huaerhong lost its entire 33ha of vineyards, according to local media (see picture).

Image: Ningxia floods
Image: Ningxia floods, credit Feng Qing

Ningxia has 4,000ha of vineyards in total. Government officials estimated flood damage at 225 million RMB, or 25 million GBP.

Humidity is now the problem

This week, producers said humidity was now their main problem for the imminent 2016 vintage beyond the worst flooding zone. Humid conditions can spread rot in the vineyards.

Chinese wine authority Prof LI Demeitold DecanterChina.com, ‘It is a timely warning. The young region needs to be prepared for not only vineyard diseases, but also sudden natural disasters.’

White grapes are especially threatened by the spreading of grey rot. Red grapes are comparatively unaffected at the moment due to timely sprayings, said local producers.

Situated in a comparatively flat area at the foothill of Helan Mountain, Kanaan Winery saw an unusual misty weather last month.

Image: White grape harvest at Kanaan Winery, credit Wang Fang
Image: White grape harvest at Kanaan Winery, credit Wang Fang

‘We usually pick white grapes on 5 to 6 September, but we’ve decided to pick a week earlier this year,’ said Wang Fang of Kanaan Winery. ‘The spreading of diseases won’t wait for you.’

The winery’s yield for white grapes has fallen by 50% after it cut out the unripe and rotten fruits.

The high costs in the young vineyards mean that ‘we won’t be able to make any money with the whites this year’, said Wang Fang.

‘We are spraying the red grape vines as a precaution.’

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Image: Red grape harvest at Leirenshou Winery, credit Feng Qing
Image: Red grape harvest at Leirenshou Winery, credit Feng Qing

‘The week of rain came during the veraison (colour-changing period) of the berries, therefore the impact was limited for us,’ said FENG Qing, owner of Leirenshou Winery. The winery’s vineyards are mostly situated in Yuquanying and Ganchengzi

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‘As long as there’s no sudden drop of temperature or heavy rain in the next 20 days, we should be looking at a normal vintage.’

The local government has issued an alert for grey rot and powdery mildew, and most wineries should have ‘taken necessary measures’ to prevent the spreading of diseases, said Feng.

Seeing the dangers early

‘Vineyard diseases are not so much a problem in Ningxia, thanks to the arid climate,’ said LI Demei. ‘However, once diseases start spreading, it can become a substantial problem for the region.’

‘It is important we realise the potential crisis earlier than later, and turn it into opportunity,’ said Wang Fang.

‘We need to consider what happens if less-than-ideal vintages continue. We are now working on improving winemaking methods in an inferior year, and developing new products to utilise the fruits that don’t qualify for our first wine.’

Government support is critical for the development of Ningxia wineries at the moment, but adjusting sales strategy towards market needs is the key to a more sustainable business, added Feng.

Leirenshou was one of the first Ningxia wineries to open a flagship store with Alibaba’s Tmall.com.

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