Chinese vintners are winning renown as wine industry soars

China’s wine industry has seen massive growth in recent years, and the amount of wineries has increased by more than pro,pelling the country over Australia and becoming the 7th largest producer. What’s driving this rapid expansion, as well as the standard of Chinese wine getting better?

“They create wines in China? !” is the most frequent response we receive from outside the region, including people working in the trade. Anyone who has visited China and sampled local wines isn’t impressed by the top wine brands. In fact, when it came to this was the first time a Chinese wine was awarded Decanter magazine’s trophy for international competition in 2011, the news was met with skepticism and shock.

As Jim Boyce, a blogger from Beijing, notes, Chinese wines have been able to perform well in international competitions as well as in the notes of renowned wine critics over the years. The regular tasting reports of Jancis Robinson, who is a famous British writer on wine, share that there have been huge advancements in the quality of Chinese wines. In the year 2014, China became the first country to be mapped by the World Atlas of Wine.

Overcoming obstacles on the vine

The outstanding wine is amazing, given the huge challenges of cultivating top-quality grapes in China. Every one of China’s most important regions for wine production has its own set of challenges and opportunities. In Northern provinces such as Ningxia, Shanxi, or Xinjiang, summers are usually dry and warm. However, in autumn, growers must fight against the approaching temperatures so cold that they need to put the vines in the ground.

This is extremely costly in terms of labor and forces producers to pick earlier than they prefer so that vines will be removed at the right time. In Shandong, in the East Coast province of Shandong, the vines are protected throughout the cold winter months; however, they are susceptible to infections and rot as soon as the rain starts to increase during the summer and in the early fall.

The authors visit the DBR (Lafite)-CITIC winery located near Penglai, Shandong Province, that was in construction as of 2013. Cynthia Howson, the Author, provided

More mutable than climate, the political structures influence the development of wine. The common ownership of the land that is rural is a major obstacle for wineries to gain control over their vineyards. A lot of producers must source grapes from a variety of small-scale holders, which means that getting a constant supply of top-quality grapes can be an issue. Additionally, contracts with farmers may be difficult to keep in place. The longer a winemaker has to wait until it is ripe enough to call on the fruit, the greater the chance that a certain grower is more likely to sell their product to a competitor that agrees to harvest earlier.

However, recent success shows how it is feasible to make a quality wine with this complicated supply chain. Grace Vineyard, located in Shanxi, has overcome the constraints of institutionalization by creating relationships with growers, offering assistance in the form of inputs, and offering bonuses for good quality. In Ningxia, the nascent Kanaan winery, which is headed by the skilled professional winemaker Wang Fang still has to purchase a significant portion of its grapes to make the production of its Cabernet Sauvignon but achieves great results due to a long-lasting relationship with a few trusted growers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping samples a glass of local wine on a visit to France. Reuters

While these achievements are very encouraging, collaborating with a multitude of growers under contracts is extremely costly and uncertain. Then, in Ningxia Province, officials have been keen to lease large areas of property to wineries in order to increase the popularity of the industry. This is a huge merit of the site since the authorities have utilized the wine industry as a development instrument. The wine industry is also the main focus of the project, which brings together the government of Ningxia, the Asian Development Bank, and the private sector to enhance the conservation of water in the field of agriculture.

Top foreign winemakers entice the growth of the industry

The policies of Ningxia have attracted investors, which include multinational corporations. The company that operates in Ningxia, Pernod Ricard, makes popular, well-received, and competitively-priced wine under its Helan Mountain label. LVMH has recently launched the first of its local Chandon sparkling wines. As winemakers of Chinese wine, they do not just promote their brand but also encourage learning and creativity within the wine industry.

Above is a selection of Chinese vinos that garnered the praise of critics and are now in the author’s shopping basket. These include wines from 1421 Winery, Kanaan, Grace Vineyard, Leirenshou, and Chateau Nine Peaks. Pierre Ly, the Author provided

Another reason for growth is the increasing nexus of expertise from both the world and the local. There is a growing number of Chinese winemakers who are educated at top regional universities. They are following in the tradition of their prominent older counterparts, such as Profs. Li Hua and Li Demei, both of whom were educated in Bordeaux, inspired and educated the next generation. Furthermore, to the numerous local wineries looking to make improvements speedily, the market for foreign winemakers and viticulture experts is enormous.

A lot of winemakers are flying and travel to China to visit China on a regular basis. Some foreigners have made themselves Chinese. One of the most well-known ones is Bordeaux winemaker Gerard Colin, who has been living in China since 1997. He has been instrumental in establishing the acclaimed Grace Vineyard and, more recently, was the initial director at DBR Lafite’s newly opened winery in Shandong before going on to produce organic wines at the Puchang winery located in Xinjiang. It is in Southern Xinjiang, and Frenchman Gregory Michel has well more than a decade of experience as a winemaker at Loulan winery. Collaboration between entrepreneurs from the local area and foreigners helped move Chinese the development of Chinese wine.

The issue of fake wine is growing as China’s wine industry grows. Here, the police of Nanning take away bottles that contain counterfeit wines. Reuters

Chinese consumers are opening up to wine.

The eyes of the global wine industry are focused on China’s expanding consumer market. However, a number of observers have warned against a lack of caution. The most recent OIV study states that even though wine consumption increased rapidly between 2000 and 2012, there was an overall 3.8 percent decrease in 2013.

Although President Xi’s crackdown on extravagant spending by officials of the state has affected the luxury market, there is an opportunity to make a shift towards an economy of middle prices that is more sophisticated buyers want value for their dollars, and not just high-end. The lack of extravagant spending on first-growth Bordeaux or efforts by some local wineries to look exclusive by offering prices more than 100 US dollars per bottle can help to build an audience of consumers in the local market. A lot of Chinese wineries are well-positioned to compete with imports at a lower price with their inexpensive wines that an increasing number of customers can appreciate more often.

Li Na celebrates by opening the bottle of sparkling wine following her win at the Australian Open earlier this year. Reuters

Therefore, it is obvious that China produces top-quality wines, and local customers are willing to purchase the wines. What is determined is the likelihood that Chinese wines will be able to find an appropriate spot on the shelves of international markets. Incredibly, you can already spot a few bottles when you search long enough.

The Dragon’s Hollow Chardonnay, made in Ningxia specifically for export to the US, can be sold from Total Wine and More in Reno. London, the fine wine shop Berry and Rudd, has four Chinese wines that include two Ice Wines that come from Liaoning Province. If you eat at the Shangri-La’s Ting eatery in London, Grace Vineyard’s Tasya’s Reserve is actually the most affordable bottle of Chardonnay on the list of wines.

As of now, Chinese wine outside of China is a rarity. However, let’s not forget that many of the most founded New World wine countries were previously largely unnoticed.


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