Author: LI Demei
Following the development of the Chinese wine consuming market, especially the sustainable growth of the market shares of imported wines, domestic Chinese wines have attracted growing attention, and more and more people have come to tour Chinese wine regions. Although local wines have a numerical advantage in the Chinese wine scene, it is not an easy task to understand these regions, as there aren’t certain wine regions being defined. The ‘wine regions’ people are customarily talking about are actually administrative divisions. The divisions are to be improved, but so far they can help us to explore the vineyards in China.
Shandong deserves its place at the top of the list of Chinese wine regions because of its long history of winemaking, and the figures of wine sales by both volume and value are the highest. The wines produced in Shandong are mainly from the Shandong Peninsula where the most famous region is Yantai. However, the vineyards are gathered in Penglai (a county-level city and an administrative subdivision of the prefecture-level city Yantai). Apart from Yantai, there are a few wineries in Qingdao, which is on the other side of the Shandong Peninsula.
This region has a long history of wine industry development as well as advanced winemaking technology. Its moderate climate means vines here can naturally survive the winters without any artificial protection. However, the rainy weather in Summer means there are less hours of sunlight therefore increaseing the risk of grape disease, which is the main problem preventing the local wine development from going further.
Hebei is just below Shandong in term of wine production and sales profit. The wine regions in this province include Shacheng, located in the northwest of Beijing, the hometown of the first Chinese dry white; and Changli, which is in the northeast of Beijing and produced the first Chinese dry red. Changli is close to the Bohai sea and has high humidity during the growing-season resulting in high pressure to control grape diseases. Moreover, the vines in Changli need artificial protection to safely survive the winter as they do in the other wine regions in Northern China. On the other hand, Shacheng, as a region close to Beijing, enjoys unique advantages for marketing and promotion, as well as drier weather and more illumination hours in summer than the regions mentioned above, because the Yan Mountains obstruct the damp air from the southeast. The off-dry red wine made from the widely planted Longyan grape in this region was once very popular.
Wines selling under the name of Shandong and Hebei wineries account for more than a half of the wines in the Chinese wine industry by yield as well as output value.
The history of winemaking in Beijing can be dated back a hundred years. As the Chinese political, economic and cultural centre, Beijing has always been put under the industrial spotlight for its wine production and consumption. Yanqing, which in is the same climatic region as Shacheng, and Fangshan in the southwest of Beijing, have some wineries built in the area. Because of the shortage of land source, these local wineries normally are quite small-scale, but these regions may be the ideal places for wine tourism.
Tianjin has a tradition of viticulture; the Muscut Hamburg grape from Chadian, Tianjin is famous around the whole country. The first Chinese-foreign joint venture – the Sino-French Tianjin Dynasty Wine company, established at the beginning of the reform and opening, started winemaking with the Muscut Hamburg grape from this region.
The vineyards in Shangxi are being concentrated in the Taiyuan Basin and the edge of Loess Plateau. The scale of winemaking in Shanxi is relatively tiny, but thanks to the success of the Grace Vineyard, this region definitely occupies an important position in the Chinese wine industry. The newly constructed Rongzi Winery has Jean Claude Berrouet as their consultant, and is starting to cut a figure now.
Shaanxi as a wine region is not as popular as the others, but the first university winemaking course was set up here, therefore the decision of investing money and building wineries in this area seems to be logical and rational. Jade Valley Wine & Resort in Lantian County attracted many visitors for its unique architecture.
The Changbai Mountain region in Jilin has the Chinese origin Vitis amurensis (the Amur grape). This grape variety has remarkable cold resistance which helps it to survive winter naturally despite the severe cold climate. It is also excellent grape breeding material. Many Chinese grape breeders hybridise Vitis amurensis with European grape varieties to breed a series of wine grape varieties that have strong cold resistance. While harvesting, the skin of Vitis amurensis is high in anthocyanins and acidity, but lacks sugar. Therefore it needs to add exogenous sugar during vinification. Local people have nearly 100 years of winemaking history with this grape variety, however, the standard of wine production from this region is different from other regions.
China also has its own icewines, and the most famous icewine region is Huanren County in Liaoning Province. Wunushan wines and Changyu Golden Icewine Valley are both in this region.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Xinjiang is certainly the region with the largest wine grape production in China. It was originally famous for its massive production of raisins. In the past decade, the cultivated area of wine grapes in this region has grown very fast, and formed the Manas Basin region by the north slope of Tianshan Mountain, and the Yanqi Basin region by the south slope of Tianshan Mountain. In addition, there are some vineyards at Turpan in Eastern Xinjiang and at Ili by the western border of China. For a long time, this area mainly sold unblended wines to companies in other provinces, but some wineries, that have been built in recent years, started releasing bottled wines to the market gaining a good reputation. This is a remote region, thus, it has no advantages in terms of means of production and product transport.
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
The wine industry occupies the most important position in the economic development of Ningxia. This region has good conditions of light and warmth; although it has an arid and semi-arid climate, it is easy to carry out manual irrigation thanks to the Yellow River that flows through the area. The first and only provincial-level of development bureau for wine in China was founded here, and the government gives great support to the technical training, seedling introduction and infrastructure construction such as road and water and power utilities construction. The wines produced in this region have won many awards in both domestic and international wine competitions, and have attracted many investments. Ningxia is a true star region in China.
Gansu has a relatively long history of winemaking. However, due to the transport hurdles, the wine industry hasn’t improved very much. The local vineyards are concentrated in the Wuwei region. Generally speaking, this region has a cool climate, and the performance of the late-ripening grape varieties is barely satisfactory.
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region
The Wuhai region in Inner Mongolia has a long history of grape growing and produces raisins with good quality. Chateau Hansen is a representative enterprise in the area.
Yunnan Province and Sichuan Province
The Yunnan Red wine company in Mile County, Yunnan Province produces wines with special flavours made with a local hybrid grape variety that can be used as both a table grape and a wine grape. This wine was once very popular in the local wine scene and was the quality benchmark standard for local consumers for a long period of time.
Despite the low latitude, the areas in Yunnan and Sichuan that border on Tibet have cooler weather because of the higher elevation, and the terroir in the upper valleys of Lancanjiang River (the Mekong River), Dadu River and Min River is unique. A series of new wineries have been established in these areas, including the Shangri-La winery, The Spirit of Highland winery, Baima winery (tentatively), as well as the KangDingHong winery, Passun 1982 and HongXing Leader Winery in Sichuan. Similar to Shandong Province, the vines in these regions can survive winters without any artificial protection. The high elevation also brings enough sunlight to give the grapes superior quality. On the other hand, it is very hard to cultivate large tracts of lands in this hilly area. As a result, the vineyards are normally spread out all over the mountain and 1ha of vineyard may consist of a dozen or so small plots. In addition, these regions do not have a long grape growing history. Therefore, they are also facing the challenge of looking for a qualified workforce.
Apart from the above regions, the old Yellow River channel (the boundary of Henan Province, Anhui Province, Shandong Province and Jiangsu Province) used to be a wine region, but much of the vineyard has gradually reduced because of the excessively damp and hot weather in the summer. At the same time, there are new wineries in Hunan Province, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Jiangxi Province making wines with the wild Vitis davidii and Vitis quinquangularis.