Sep 18: Although wines from Ningxia have had a special place in the Chinese local market as well as exports, they received a boost from the fractured relations between Australia and China, recording an increase of 46.4% in 2020 despite a downward universal market trend, writes Subhash Arora who has been to the region a few times and finds the quality superior to other regions, despite the difficulty and high costs of burying vines under the winter snow
China’s exports of wine produced in Northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region saw a growth of 46.4 percent in 2020 as compared with 2019, amidst a global downward trend in international trade, according to the Global Times. Wine companies from Ningxia confirmed that their wines also dominated the domestic market, beating their competition from wines imported from Australia.
At a press conference for the First China (Ningxia) International Wine Culture and Tourism Expo, Zhao Yongqing, an official of the Ningxia government, reportedly said that Ningxia’s wine exports bucked the downward trend in the depressed international trade environment during 2020. He also noted that due to the cooling off trade between China and Australia, Aussie wine was losing its dominance in the Chinese market, with the current market share of Australian wine in China shrinking. A total of 130 million bottles of wine are being produced every year.
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Zhao also announced that an international wine and tourism-based expo would be held on 25-27 September 2021 at Yinchuan, provincial capital of this Autonomous Region, which is expected to attract 148 international companies from 16 countries.
Ningxia has been generally acknowledged as the Top Wine Region of China with full backing of the government both at the central and regional level. It came in limelight in 2011 when theGrand Reserve Jia Bei Lan 2009 by Helan Qingxue Vineyard,one of the wineries in the Eastern Foothills of Helan Mountains, won the Trophy for the Best International Wine over £10 in 2011 at the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA). The wine was praised for its quality by the Chairman of the Competition, Steven Spurrier who was so surprised at the result that he had the wines reportedly tasted a couple of times again before giving the final verdict. The credit for the winemaking goes to Prof Demei Li who is one of the Top Ten Wine Consultants of China.
Subhash Arora who has visited the region a few times, had penned in the 824th edition of delWine, ‘One thing for sure, is that Ningxia will roar like a lion in the near future. The government of China and Yinchuan is betting on the right horse. The prices are still high but good wines should be available at better prices soon. Otherwise, the charm of Ningxia wines may be lost- at least in the international markets.’
Two thousand years ago, Ningxia used to be on the famous Silk Route from China to Europe during the flourishing trade but fell on poor times over centuries. A Conference on viticulture in the 1990’s concurred that the Terroir in the East Helan Mountains was perfect and that the area ought to be developed to its potential. It was an amazing push by the pro-wine Chinese government to develop the region at breakneck speed. When Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Republic of China visited the region in July 2016 and said it had the highest potential to make wines of international quality, the development picked up at an even faster speed.
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Ningxia- the Big B Chinese brand of the decade
Ningxia has today become a brand as popular as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Brunello, or Barossa. The Eastern foothill of Helan Mountain in Ningxia, is recognized as one of the most suitable wine regions for growing grapes and producing high-end wine. Since 2013 it has also achieved the Geographical Indication (GI) status. The soil is permeable and rich in minerals. The day and night temperature difference is high (over 12°C) and the annual rainfall is very low at less than 200 mL. This also means lesser problems due to fungus, pests and other diseases.
Drip irrigation is compulsory and the nearby Yellow River which cuts through the region, provides water for irrigation. The grapes are perfumed with deep colour due to good pigment formation. The gravel in the soil is similar to that of Bordeaux- the main components being sediment, rock fragments and pebbles. The strong sunshine gives relatively ripe grapes but good acidity due to the day-night temperature difference.
At present, the planting area of wine grapes at the eastern foothill of Helan mountain is 570,000 mu (94,000 acres; 1 acre= 6.07 mu). This is currently the largest wine producing area in China, with 90-100 wineries in operation using 36 grape varieties. Half of this area is in Yinchuan. Most of these wineries are at the altitude of 1100-1200 meters though the Helan Mountain is over 3500 meters high at its peak.
About 60 winemakers from 23 countries reportedly help modernise the region and keep up to date on the viticulture and wine making process. Exports were initially slow primarily due to high export prices. But savvy producers like Changyu Moser have ensured quality wines even in the European supermarkets.
Red grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt (Carmenere), Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Malbec, Marselan (Cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache) etc. White grape varieties are Chardonnay, Italian Riesling, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Vidal for ice wine but red grape varieties account for around 92%.
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It appears that the persistent efforts of these passionate winemakers like Lenz Moser of Changyu Moser have paid off, bringing a boom to this autonomous region in a short time, despite the pandemic.
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