Sunday, November 6, 2011

Would you plant a vineyard in China's Xinjiang province?

Would you plant a vineyard in the scene below? This is my aerial view on the way to visit the largest vineyard in all of Asia. What you see is part of the massive desert in China's far western Xinjiang province, where (according to Wikipedia) only about 4% of province''s land area is fit for human habitation. It is most known for huge sand dunes, the ancient Silk Road, lots of ethnic groups including Uyghur, Han, Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz and Mongol, and Muslim uprisings. The capitol, Wulumuqi (also called Urumqi), is the furthest large city from any ocean on our planet. OK, it's desolate and remote.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,the largest Chinese administrative area, spans over 1.6 million km2 and borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It also has amazing amount of oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region. That's why all of the political unrest. And grape wine has a long history here. Back about 200 BC, when the Han Government dispatched General Zhang Qian to establish good relations with the Middle Eastern countries, the good general brought back vines and wine. I conjecture this was to help with his lengthy journey.
This is harvest in one of the vineyards out in that desert. Yes, that's a real sand dune behind the vineyard. Those snow-capped peaks in the background are a part of a range that separates Xinjiang's two huge desert basins. And did I say that it's perfect-for-growing-watermelons hot in the summer, instant frost-bite cold in the winter and the 50 ~ 150 mm (about 2 to 6 inches) of precipation rarely falls during the flowering and harvest time.
They flood irrigate (with water from the snowy mountains), the soil drains well but the vines have to be buried for the winter to insulate against bitter cold. Since the vines are on their own root stock, if the vines do die even when buried, they will sprout back up from the root. No phylloxera. Overall, these are perfect wine grape growing conditions. That's why the region's Citic Guoan Wine Company (formerly Suntime) not only produces for their own long list of labels but also for most of the major wineries in the rest of China.

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