Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Searching for Chinese wineries along the ancient Silk Road.

For my upcoming China winery trip–Sept 17 - Oct 13–it's high mountains, dry deserts, the Silk Road and ancient scrolls about wine. So here are my current winery choices rationally arranged by province. Follow along on the map but remember that China is disputably about the same size as the USA. Any suggestions or insights gladly accepted.

Shanxi province. On the thoughtfully provided map look for a vertical fat-pinply-hot-dog shaped yellow area at the top center-right of China hanging like an udder below Inner Mongolia.
The dusty Terra Cotta Warriors march here and the ancient Yellow River Bed meanders through
Here I already visited one of China's most highly regarded wineries in terms of drinkable wines, Grace vineyard.
On this trip it's Jade Valley winery for it's scenic location and famous architect owner. Perfect photo combo.

Ningxia province. On the map look at the left side of the big green Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, located at the top of China. The Yellow River and the Great Wall of China flow through the province. While it's sparsely populated, probably because it's mostly desert, the vast plain of the Yellow River in the north has been irrigated for centuries through an extensive system of canals. Wine production flourishes in the eastern part of the Helan Mountains Region, so that's where I'm going. Jancis Robinson–a famous wine writer–says that Ningxia seems to be a seriously up and coming region for vineyard investment. So we will find out if lots of money guarantees great, even good wine.
Targeted wineries include Helan Mountain, operated by Pernod Ricard–my how those French get around, Dragon's Hollow, which surprisingly produces mostly for export and Silver Heights, where Emma Gao is winemaker.

Xinjiang Province That big orange amoeba-shaped area on China's far left side, is Xinjiang, which literally means "New Frontier." It's home to the restless Muslims you might have read about in the news. It's also home to the largest vineyard in all of Asia. Lots of ancient history here, incl With the Silk Road trekking right through the area, there's lots of ancient history, including mention of wine in the BC time. This province, containing the Gobi, is renowned for its grapes and, no sunny surprise, raisins.
Summers tend to be hot and dry, so the grapes have higher sugar content and fewer problems with disease than in coastal regions, though they sometimes lack acidity. Winters are extremely cold and the vines need extra protection to survive by being buried with dirt, which then blows away later.
Wineries under scrutiny– Loulan and Suntime–are located way to the center left of the oversized province.

Inner Mongolia Autonomous Province Crowning China on the map, the big green squished water balloon-shaped area is Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. (Why certain provinces are called Autonomous is a topic for another blog.) While there are some wineries in this sand-dunned area already, some growing adapted vines that can withstand the -35 degrees C (-31F), I've heard about a mega project near Bayan Nur City to create a vineyard in the Ulan Buh Desert. According to the municipal desert control authority–how would you like to be in charge of shifting sand dunes, the project will cover a total area of 26,667 hectares (65 895 acres), yield 600,000 tonnes of wine grapes a year. Will that help quench China's thirst?

Yunnan Province Finally, the orange squished amoeba looking province is Yunnan. Here one winery is suppose to be at 3000 m (9000 ft) elevation.
Here I'm looking at Shangri-la Winery and Sunspirit, where one winery building is Tibetian style. More about this later.

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