An Introduction to Wine Travel in China
When planning a trip to China one envisions parades of people carrying dragon kites in Beijing, monks practicing martial arts atop misty ridges, and rivers littered with colorful junks in full sail.
What doesn’t come to mind is wine enthusiasts standing around a bar in a tasting room while swirling glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, discussing the finer points of viticulture.
But this image will be seared in the minds of wine-loving travelers in the near future as China is poised to become the world’s number one consumer of fermented grapes in 2016.
Not only is the nation wild about drinking wine, but it is a major hub of production, becoming the fifth largest producer as of 2012.
A Brief History of Wine in China
Archeological evidence reveals that wine production in China has occurred since 2,500 B.C.E. However wine made from grapes fell out of favor by the end of the Bronze Age as wine was laid in the shade.
During this period other alcoholic beverages captured the palates and imaginations of the Chinese people. For this reason, China has been known as a society of beer and spirits with wine not entering the consciousness of people who live outside of Asia.
By 1970 the World Health Organization estimated that spirits and brews made up 99% of alcohol consumption in the nation.
However, in that decade the face of Chinese economics and alcohol consumption would go through a series of changes that would alter the wine scene tremendously, leaving it forever altered.
The economic reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping created momentum that continued to gain speed as China became the fastest growing economy in the world. This newfound prosperity, and Deng’s willingness to open China up to the Occident primed the culture to begin importing luxury goods from the West.
In the 1990s grape wine became much more prevalent in China and hundreds of vineyards began popping up around the country. Around the turn of the millennium, the Chinese thirst for wine began to explode. From 2008 to 2013 consumption in China doubled.
Wine Experiences in Beijing
This period of rapid growth aided the expansion of the wine industry. Amazingly, China today has over seven hundred wineries, which offer exceptional experiences for tourists with a passion for crushed grapes. Wine production now occurs in nearly every corner of China.
As a result, one could have an authentic Chinese wine experience, whether they are visiting Beijing or the Yunnan Province.
In Beijing, there is a burgeoning wine industry that has something for every wine enthusiast. The Grape Wall of China is the premier English language blog on Chinese wine, operated out of Beijing by Jim Boyce.
Not only is the blog an excellent resource on the Chinese wine industry, but it hosts a number of events including “The China Wine Tour” which includes a visit to four bars and samples of eight Chinese wines. There are also annual events including “The Grape Wall Challenge” where Chinese consumers vote on their favorite wines.
For more, visit the Grape Wall of China blog and begin exploring the possibilities.
Touring the Wine Regions of China
If you are hoping to get out and explore some vineyards during your journey, you could visit any of China’s wine producing regions including Inner Mongolia, Yunnan, Sichuan, Xinjiang Uyghur, Tianjin, and Liaoning among several others.
However, if you’re planning to visit a region of China specifically for a wine experience, you will be best served to head to the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
Known to many as the “Napa Valley of China,” this region is fed by the Yellow River, which provides irrigation to this dry climate to produce an excellent setting for grape cultivation and appreciation. As a result, money has poured into the region making, Ningxia (the diminutive name for the region) the premier destination.
This is where Moet Hennessey elected to open Chandon China, the nation’s first sparkling wine house.
The region lies about 500 miles west of Beijing, but for oenophiles, the trip from the capital is well worth it because it is host to more than fifty wineries and is rapidly expanding production.
While visiting Ningxia you can easily stop over at the Gansu Province, which boasts a cooler climate conducive to producing other varieties of grapes.
A Final Word on Wine Travel in China
No matter how you decide to spend your time in China, a novel wine experience can be part of your itinerary. The most exciting aspect is much like touring China itself, wine appreciation is a process of discovery. It is best to leave no stone unturned and no bottle still corked.
As the consumption in China continues to outpace production, there is still very little wine that is exported. Therefore, by touring the wine industry in China you are guaranteed a unique and authentic experience. In China, there is a possibility to constantly try something new, see a different side of wine, and drink deeply from the rich history of the enchanting dragon.
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He has written for The Permaculture Research Institute and Uisio among other prominent outlets.
He is the author of Death: An Exploration (2016). For more visit his official website: www.lorenmayshark.com
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