Red China: Upcoming Wineries Recognized

YINCHUAN, China, November 2 (Reuters) – Chinese winemaker Legacy Peak, which started producing grapes more or less by accident in 1997, symbolizes the rapid growth of an industry that is now winning accolades in global markets, but who has already almost given up.

“We wanted to pull up all the vines and quit smoking,” said Liu Hai, its second-generation owner, recalling the early struggles to cultivate a barren plot received from a local government in payment for the construction work.

Her family did not know anything about agriculture when they obtained the land in the arid region of north-central Ningxia on condition that it was devoted only to grapes, but she began to make wine there. a decade after wineries that used their fruit won multiple awards.

Since then, Liu says the winery has won awards and found export markets in France, Germany and Southeast Asia, despite an annual production of less than 100,000 bottles.

From the rolling hills of the coastal province of Shandong to the desert heights of Ningxia and the deep valleys of southwest Yunnan, Chinese vineyards and vineyards are increasingly recognized.

“China is a thriving producer of fine wines, and its best wines can compete on the world stage,” said Edward Ragg, professor of wine, critic for the influential Robert Parker Wine Advocate.

Products from vineyards such as Chateau Nine Peaks in Shandong, Silver Heights and Grace Vineyard in Ningxia, and Ao Yun in Yunnan, are classified as “exceptional wines of exceptional complexity and character” by the newsletter of Parker.

Some, like Nine Peaks and Legacy Peak, find export markets in Asia and Europe.

IMAGE PROBLEM

China’s wine market is the sixth largest in the world, event organizer Vinexpo said it consumed $ 14.8 billion worth of wine in 2018 and projected sales of $ 18 billion by 2023 .

But national wineries have to grapple with an image problem, as consumers at home can be wary of their quality and often put off by the high prices.

“It has always been easier to sell to foreigners because they are more open-minded, but it has been difficult to sell to Chinese customers,” Liu said.

Other issues are high production costs and erratic weather conditions which can affect efficiency and quality, as a downturn in the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic affect wine consumption in China since 2018. read more

Modern viticulture in China dates back to the 1980s, when French companies, such as the precursor of Rémy Cointreau (RCOP.PA), began to invest after the door was opened to foreign companies by the then leader, Deng. Xiaoping.

As French influence persisted in a market dominated by reds and an overabundance of Bordeaux imitations, quality began to improve in the early 2000s.

Workers prepare a vintage 2021 in a cellar near Yinchuan, in the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningxia, China on October 11, 2021. REUTERS / Norihiko Shirouzu

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It was a time when wineries focused on growing healthier grapes, just as incomes rose sharply, with more and more people traveling abroad and drinking more wine.

Now local wineries can allay the suspicions of some consumers, like Yang Lu, who owns a restaurant in the Chinese capital.

“I was amazed at how full the aroma was with beautiful fruits and flowers,” said Yang, describing her experience last year tasting the Mountain Wave label produced at Ningxia for the first time. .

“It had a great color and was smooth with a long finish.”

Until then, Yang, who is in her thirties, was educated abroad and traveled widely, had almost always ignored national wines, only opening up imports such as New Zealand wines made from pinot noir.

SIGNATURE VARIETY

Some winemakers, like Ian Dai, 33, who is behind the Ningxia Xiaopu brand, which ranges from 168 yuan ($ 26) to 300 yuan ($ 47), are turning away from industrial methods in search of ‘a Chinese signature variety.

Dai said he was looking for more natural methods, such as fermenting without commercial yeast or leaving the acidity and tannin levels unadjusted to “let the grapes speak for themselves.”

Independent with no vineyard or winemaking equipment, Dai is in his fifth year of winemaking after dropping out of school in Sydney and spending a decade selling wine.

Dai hopes to find grape varieties for a wine that represents China.

“As a winemaker, I should have the ego to make the best wine in this climate with grapes grown here,” said Dai, who expected it would take two decades to produce such a wine in China. .

Chinese vineyards are also experimenting with alternative grape varieties, such as marselan, aglianico and saperavi.

Marselan, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache adopted years ago by Legacy Peak and others, offers high yields and much-needed fruitiness in Chinese reds, experts say.

“Marselan could one day become China’s iconic grape, just as Malbec is in Argentina,” said Ragg, who holds the Master of Wine degree.

($ 1 = 6,4007 Chinese renminbi yuan)

Report by Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing and Yinchuan; Editing by Tony Munroe and Clarence Fernandez

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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