China’s Wine Industry Origins and a Review of their Chinese-made wine

The Chinese people are supposed to have an obsession with the colour red. A visit to any one of the multitude of Chinese restaurants will demonstrate their passion for red, from colourings in their food, to decorative lanterns and festoons adorning the premises. It follows that the majority of wine produced in China, is in fact, red. Whether this is linked to the deeply traditional Chinese race and indeed, their psyche, China is the fifth largest consumer of wine in the world, with consumption soon to reach 2 billion bottles.

Brief History of Wine in China

With only scant archeological evidence to base history on, it is believed that wine made from grapes (we must not forget the famous Chinese Rice Wine) was in existence over 4,500 years ago with the Tang Dynasty annals providing the most information of its use and consumption during the period 620-910. Grape wine was however made prior to these dates, using vines planted by the Greeks. But was obliterated during the Bronze Age and replaced by wine made with grains such as millet, sorghum and rice. Grape wine had a resurgence during the Tang period, with previous attempts to reintroduce it had failed.

‘Real’ wine production did not take place until the late 19th Century, when European grapes hit the soil in China, and growth has been continuous since then. China is quite unique in wine production – they manage to grow vines in the most unlikely climatic regions where icy winters prevail or provinces that are a thousands of miles from the nearest ocean.

China’s Wine Growing Regions

More land is dedicated to vineyards in China than in France. While it is one of the world’s largest consumers, very little of it pro rata is exported.

Xinjiang Province in the north west, towards the Kazakhastan border, is far from any large body of water or sea port, which makes it an unlikely candidate for wine production. It is also far away from the vineyards that produce the bulk of wine, around Beijing, where they are blessed with a more gentle and clement climate. But the Chinese seem to manage to produce wine, quite successfully in both these regions. In Ningxia province towards the north central area, extreme climates make wine production difficult. And what did the Chinese do to make grapes grow? Well, they made vines grow like small burial mounds with earth around them to prevent them from dying in the harsh environment. Wine is also produced in Yunnan in the south, where the climate is similar to Beijing.

Wine Production

The Chinese strive to produce wines similar to Bordeaux, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, as they believe these are the more prestigious wines that their country likes to see. This writer found out that they can often be disappointing, slightly sweet and sometimes over-oaked. It is not apparent whether these problems are down to the grape, the bottling process or inadequate storage techniques, such as too much light or heat exposure. There is still a way to go to perfect their techniques, but if anyone can, it will certainly be the Chinese.

All is not lost though – there are some notable wines worth trying such as 2008 Domaine Helan Mountain Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with its smooth tannins, and rich flavours of cherry, redcurrant and a pleasant oakiness. We suggest you  try the 2009 Grace Vineyard Tasya’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It is medium-bodied with the aroma of blackberries and again, a pleasant oakiness. This particular wine is very highly rated and on the wine lists of most of the top hotels and restaurants in China.

Recent surveys (published July 2015) by IWSR (International Wine and Spirit Research) shows all relevant statistics on production and consumption in China.

Reasons Behind China’s Rapid Advancement in the Wine Industry

China has attacked the wine production industry with gusto, as have their consumers. Logically, they needed to look at experience and technique from other international winemakers who could polish their production and knowledge. They also need to use more advanced technologies and techniques to make rapid advancements in the industry. One such winemaker, Austrian Lenz Moser, was probably one of the first to jump to assist the Chinese.

Whilst much of Chinese wine is consumed by their own population, there are some successful conglomerates who are exporting in large numbers. The Hua-Xia winery is the third largest exporter of wine in China, having one-third share of what is turning into a lucrative market for their ‘Changli’ and ‘Great Wall’ labels. Dragons Hollow Winery export exclusively to the United States, and have captured a niche market and even have full international regulatory approval. Interestingly, behind such wineries there are usually large foodstuff providers as part of their group, giving them an existing route into overseas markets.

China will continue to expand in the wine industry once they fine tune their wine products.