Day 8 of my Ningxia revisit found me alongside a dusty winding ribbon of newly laid concrete called the Helan Mountain Grape Culture Corridor along side of Helan Mountain Range (also called Helanshan, meaning 'fine horse' in Mongolian. The mountains separate Inner Mongolia from Ningxia Province).
|This is what I saw of the Helan Mountain Grape Culture Corridor when I visited in June 2014. The whole scale makes the Egyptian pyramids look like children's Tinker toys. And the investment is even more staggering. For example, the government spent millions of dollars installing an Israeli-designed drip irrigation system just for those scraggly trees lining the road. Helan Mountain Grape Culture Corridor with Helan Mountain in the background, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.|
With a name like Helan Mountain Grape Culture Corridor, I could only think that the Ningxia government and wineries dream of becoming a touristy Napa Valley wine route. (Even though the climate is quite different, I kept thinking of how the Penglai region in Shandong Province called itself NAVA Valley. The name made Napa Valley wine officials quite steamy since it sounded like Napa.)
However, the scale of the Ningxia Wine Corridor makes Napa Valley AVA look like a gentleman’s backyard vineyard. A couple of knowledgeable Ningxia winemakers told me that by 2020, expansive plans call for 1 million mu of planted vineyards (that's about 164,737 acres or 66667 hectares). For those counting, that's about five times the total land—not just vineyards—making up Napa AVA.
Since the government has declared the grape industry as one of the six pillar industries in Ningxia province, the investment is astounding, as is the expected return. We're talking achieving 100 billion RMB in output in less than 10 years. And jobs, while often flowery, government reports claim the area will create 100,000 jobs. (With a magnifying glass, count the number of workers planting vines in the second photograph below.)
Check out these photographs. Could this dusty with construction Ningxia wine region be the beginning of a new world-class wine tourist region or a dusty desert mirage?
|Those little dots at the bottom of the photograph, well, those are workers planting vines in virgin soil that has never seen agriculture before. And yes, that is a real desert dust storm at the base of the 2000 meter-high Helan Mountain range. Ningxia Helan Mountain East Wine Region, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.|
|The sign makes the Helan Mountain Grape Cultural Corridor official in three languages, Chinese, English and Arabic for the Muslim population in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.|
|Since the Ningxia is considered by some wine writers China's most promising wine region, Chinese and foreign wineries flock to the area. This optimistic sign pictures the future hopes of a French winery which has planted a vineyard near the Helan Mountain Grape Cultural Corridor. Note that the portion of Helan Mountain range in the background looks like the profile of a sleeping former chairman Mao Zedong, who supported the grape wine industry so that people would not use food crops to make alcoholic drinks. Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.|
|See those thin black lines leading from tree to scraggly tree, that's a sophisticated Israeli-designed drip irrigation system the government spent millions of dollars installing along the Helan Mountain Grape Cultural Corridor road. Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China.|