We hear more and more often about Chinese wine and with more or less awareness we express opinions on the current and future status of this product, which is not as new as we believe. I would therefore like to try to give a more complete and correct view as possible on the current state of things. Let’s start with some background information:

  • China has the largest area of Cabernet Sauvignon vine planting in the world;
  • China has increased its wine production from 2 million hectolitres in 1986 to 11 million in 2015;
  • It is the world’s sixth largest producer of wine by volume after Italy, France, Spain, the United States of America and Australia;
  • China is the fifth largest wine consumer country with 17.3 million hectolitres by 2016;
  • China is the fifth largest wine producer by volume: 6.4 million hectolitres by 2016;
  •  The Chinese surface area planted with vines is now the second largest in the world after that of Spain and before that of France and Italy.

It is quite interesting to understand how the Chinese wine production evolved during the years and brought us  to this scenario.

A little of History

Although vitis vinifera (commonly grapevine) landed in China during the Han dynasty and, therefore, around 2.200 years ago, the first wine company, the “Changyu Pioneer Wine Company”, currently one of the largest wineries in the world, was founded in 1892, and it is only since the 1980s, that China has been dedicated to wine production in the modern sense.
Looking at the numbers, China is the larger producer of grapes in the world, but only 12% of the total is destined for winemaking.
It is also true that the land plated with vitis vinifera is increasing and so is the production of wine, not only in quantity but also in quality.

What are the production areas in China?

Chinese wine regions are distributed throughout the country, although the most widely cultivated areas are: Shandong, Hebei, Yunnan, Jilin, Tianjin, Xingiang, Ningxia, Beijing and Gansu.

Let’s see them in more detail:

Shandong Province
Shandong deserves to be at the top of the list of Chinese wine regions, thanks to its long history of wine production (the above-mentioned Changyu winery, founded in 1892, is based here) and obviously for the numbers both in terms of volume (40% of national production) and value.

The areas where production is most concentrated in Shandong are Penglai and Yantai, which are located at the same latitude as Bordeaux, so it is not difficult to imagine what the similarities are. Given the proximity to the sea, the climate is maritime and allows the vines to live easily without human intervention even in winter. The presence of monsoons and abundance of rains is the most difficult challenge in the wine production of this region. Here we find mainly Cabernet Gernisht, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

In 2018, the famous French producer Château Lafite Rothschild, put on the market its first Chinese brand, Domaine de Long Dai, which is located in Penglai, an area in which the Bordeaux producer started investing planting 30 hectares of vines in the 2008.tarted to invest 30 hectares in 2008.

Hebei Province
Hebei comes right after Shandong, both in terms of production and profit.
This province is home to the Shacheng wine region, northwest of Beijing – and birthplace of China’s first dry white wine – and the Changli region, northwest of Beijing, where the first Chinese dry red was produced.
The Changli area is subject to high humidity, which means there is great pressure to keep vine diseases under control, and in addition, the extremely harsh winters force producers to bury their vines every year, so as not to risk them dying of frost.
While in the Shacheng area, the climate is drier and the hours of sunshine in summer are greater, making it perfect for the production of slightly sweet wine from Longyan grapes.

Wines bearing the name Shandong and Hebei on the label represent more than half of Chinese wines both in volume and value.

Yunnan Province
Yunnan is a province located in southern China, bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. The tropical and mountainous terrain in this part of the country supports an increasing amount of viticulture. In the past, the rather mysterious Chinese hybrid grape varieties Rose Honey, French Wild and Crystal were planted here. International varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are now being planted. 

From a climatic point of view, the temperature range during the grape growing season helps to extend the ripening period, allowing the grapes to develop strong aromas along with acidity. Mineral resources are abundant in Yunnan, and as a result, the soils throughout the province are rich in minerals.Although Yunnan is not yet as famous from a wine point of view as Shandong and Ningxia, the wine industry is growing rapidly.

Municipality of Beijing
Certainly a smaller wine area than the previous two, but very important for wine tourism, given its proximity to the main Capital tourist attractions.

Municipality of Tianjin
the first Sino-foreign wine joint venture (China-France) was born right here, producing the nationally acclaimed wine from Hamburg Muscat grapes.

Province of Jilin
Vitis amurensis originates in the province of Jilin, famous for its extreme resistance to cold and for its excellent predisposition to be cultivated and for the creation of hybrids.
Although the quality of the wine produced in this province is not yet excellent.

Province of Lianoning
This is certainly the most important region for the production of ice wines in China.

Xinjiang Autonomous Region
The region with the highest production of grapes, in terms of quantity, although much of it is not intended for wine production.
For years the wines produced here were sold to other regions, where they were blended for the market. Today, some wineries are starting to produce their own labels under the name Xinjiang.

Ningxia Autonomous Region
The Ningxia region deserves special mention, here the wine industry occupies the most important position in the economic development of the region.
The light and heat conditions are excellent and although the climate is arid/semi-arid, irrigation is particularly easy thanks to the proximity of the Yellow River.
The first and currently the only wine development agency in China is based in Ningxia and the wines produced here have already won several national and international awards.
Major investments are constantly being planned to improve the infrastructure necessary for the development of the wine industry.

Much remains to be said about the other production areas and those that are currently investing in this sector. But first, we would like to devote our attention to another question:

What is so exciting and interesting about Chinese wine today?

If until recently we could say with certainty that the production of quality wines in China was all about technical perfection, and so Chinese wines where missing personality, things are now changing.
Surely the Chinese wine scene is still dominated by big brands and, unlike other wine areas around the world, government support and influence play a fundamental role.
Brands such as Great Wall and Changyu are rampant in the market, supplying wine at an affordable price to everyone, but unfortunately they also paint a not-so-positive picture of China’s wine quality and potential.

It is also true, however, that more and more small producers are beginning to emerge, especially in Ningxia, Xinjiang but also Yunnan.

The producers of these small realities, now that they have the international quality standards and know-how, want to express in their wines their passion, the identity of the territory, the potential of their grapes.
They are ready to experiment and put themselves at stake, improving from harvest to harvest.

Which grapes are used to make these great changes?

To date the most planted grapes are the international ones, with Cabernet Sauvignon as the opener, followed by Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Grenache, and small quantities of Chardonnay and Riesling, as well as the local variety Longyan.
Among the best Chinese wines, should you wish to take the road of real knowledge of their products, the dry white Chateau Martin Longyan, produced in Hebei, stands out.
Also to stay on the whites, produced in small quantities, we find the Kanaan Winery Riesling, from the Ningxia region. We end with an unmissable red and, among the most famous currently, we mention the Ao Yun Cabernet, produced along the slopes of the Himalayas and already quite appreciated in Europe.

In Italy as well we have started to welcome these products, thanks to the action of the Meregalli group, which has started importing four references from the Château Changyu Moser XV winery.

The questions on what the consequences of the presence of Chinese wine on the national and international market will be are still many.

In China, it is questionable whether the growing production of Chinese wine is a threat to the (already small) Italian market shares, or whether a wider diffusion of the local wine culture will lead to a bigger interest from Chinese consumers, even toward imported wines.

In Italy, many have wondered if we actually need Chinese wines, even if it is probably wrong to speak of “necessity” when it comes to wine, not to mention the surplus of products from the Peninsula itself.

I want to conclude with the words of Renata Pisu: “There will be those who will adulterate wines and producers, regardless of quality, out of interest or ‘naivety’, and those who will reject them without even trying them. But ‘Chinese wine’ is not an extravagance of some isolated producer, and we will hear about it in Italy too”.

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