Things are undeniably changing. The country’s vineyards increasingly produce wines that can compete with traditional wine-growing vineyards. But for the longest time, major state-owned brands Changyu, Great Wall and Dynasty have established the reputation of Chinese wines as alcoholic grape juice.
England’s oldest independent wine merchant Berry Brothers & Rudd emphasized how China’s propitious soil and eminent domestic demand make up all the essential ingredients to make fine wine to go neck and neck against the best of Bordeaux.
One of the most promising wine regions in the country is Northwest China’s Ningxia Hui. Known for its coal production, it is basically dry and desert-like and is currently economically underdeveloped. But the good thing about it is that the wineries recently opened up by entrepreneurs are not only changing its economic image but it markets it as a tourist destination.
Some 12 years ago, Emma Gao was a rising star in China’s private winery business. They started to buy a small plot of land in Yinchuan to plant grapes from her mother’s savings. In addition, they also bought wine making equipment to formally start their business.
Their first winery was located in the underground cellar in their courtyard home in Yinchuan. Although Emma,spent most of her time away from Ningxia, flying to France to learn the trade, she ended up working in Shanghai for Spanish winemaker and merchant Torres.
It was that day when Emma took a bottle of her family’s wine and made her boss taste it. Surprisingly, his boss liked it and later on visited their winery, recognizing its potential. In Europe, family-owned wineries make the best wines and good grapes take generations to grow. From then on, he agreed to represent Emma and her family and become their dealer.
Everything changed after that night. 3,000 bottles were made that year and production doubled in the succeeding year.
But just like any other business, challenges came about from all aspects. Generally, the family was mostly dependent on grapes from local farmers making quality hard to control. As a result the family began looking for more land. It was in 2012 when they acquired it in the shadows of the Helanshan Mountains. The current production from that land amounts to 100,000 bottles a year.
To date there are now hundreds of wineries around the Helanshan Mountains. Families sharing the same success upon realizing the extraordinary potential of wine business that eventually led them and their families to continue in that winery business.
Emma recalls how the area around the Helanshan Mountains was barren and hot that nothing could grow. No buildings, trees and there were only shrubs with thorns. But its potential was clearly seen in its 1,350 meter elevation which is very ideal in growing wine.
Moreover, people say that it is a treasured land with really good feng shui. It is positioned north to south, so the escarpment blocks the Siberian cold.
Ningxia has its own charms when compared to wine tourism in South Africa or Napa and Sonoma in California.
There hasn’t been any organized effort to promote wine tourism in Ningxia. A map of all the wineries with their contacts and addresses is yet to be made available.
The wineries are still learning to offer wine tasting as an experience. As for logistics, there isn’t much to see in Ningxia’s capital city of Yinchuan and that’s probably why the hotels here are great bargains. The Kempinski and Hyatt Place are the top hotels here.
Meanwhile it is in the small city of Zhongwei, three hours southwest by car from Helanshan where wine tasting has been remarkable. Successful hotelier, Xia Yuqing has built a cluster of handsome B&Bs on Zhongwei’s outskirts which resemble a Moroccan camp in the desert. The concrete walls are sand-colored and Interiors are modern and clean-lined.
Car companies like Audi have also found their way there for the aftermath of a stand out photography of desert lunches.
Ningxia has reinvented itself from a barren desert to an exciting destination that features wineries and B&B’s. Looking forward to 2020, when the high-speed rail from Yinchuan to Beijing is completed, things can only get better.