SHANGHAI | 8 Nov, 2020
The 12 Chinese Wine Regions You Need To Know
China's 12 wine regions accommodate more than 450 wineries of the nation. Know in depth about these regions.
China is poised to become the next big superpower in wine - and not just because it already ranks as the fifth-largest wine market in the world and is on pace to become the world’s largest (as measured by total annual consumption) by the year 2021. More impressively, the nation’s domestic producers have emerged as a force in their right. There are now more than 450 wineries scattered around the nation, in 12 different wine regions of varying climates and growing conditions. Here’s a closer look at the 12 Chinese wine regions you need to know.
Located in the northwest of China, Ningxia has burst on the scene as the new superstar wine region in the nation, justly famous for its Bordeaux blends. There are now 30,000 hectares of vineyards in Ningxia, which produce mostly red wine varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Gernischt. The big moment for Ningxia came in 2011 when a much-hyped “Bordeaux vs. Ningxia” wine tasting competition resulted in Ningxia walking away with four of the Top 5 wines.
Since then, wines from Ningxia have been a standout on the international competition scene, picking up gold and silver medals. At the Decanter World Wine Awards, a Cabernet blend from Ningxia (Helan Qing Xue Jia Bei Lan) won the title of Best Bordeaux Blend, even though wines from Bordeaux were entered in the competition.
One key reason for Ningxia’s success on the global stage has been the considerable amount of government support the region receives - everything from technical training to the subsidization of certain growing techniques to infrastructure spending in the region on power, roads and water. In short, the Chinese government is doing everything possible to help Ningxia succeed - and that has encouraged domestic producers to make sizable investments in the region as well. Market leader Changyu Pioneer Wine Company famously invested 70 million Euros in a Bordeaux-style chateau in Ningxia (Changyu Chateau Moser XV) as part of its broader strategy of boosting the prestige of its wines.
In terms of climate and topography, the distinguishing features of Ningxia include dry, high-altitude vineyards and long daylight hours. Similar to other wine regions located in the north of China, vines are buried every autumn to protect them from freezing temperatures during winter. Growing conditions near the Helan Mountains are usually characterized as arid to semi-arid, and irrigation for the vineyards comes from the nearby Yellow River.
The primary vineyards in Shandong Province are located on two sides of the Shandong Peninsula. On one side of the peninsula is the famous Yantai region, while on the other side of the peninsula is the Qingdao region. With more than 140 wineries, Shandong easily accounts for nearly 40% of all Chinese domestic wine production, and Yantai wines are famous nationwide for their high quality.
The superstar of the Yantai wine region is the Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, which was established back in 1892, making it easily the nation’s oldest wine company. Today, Changyu is considered to be one of the Top 3 wine companies in the nation (together with Great Wall and Dynasty). Recently, Changyu has made headlines with its investments globally in wine destinations such as France and Spain, as Changyu has sought to showcase the growing quality of Chinese wines, especially those made with Cabernet Gernischt grapes.
One notable attribute of Yantai is the warm, temperate and continental monsoon climate. Unlike other Chinese wine regions, where vines must be artificially protected during long, cold winters, vines in Shandong can lay unprotected, due to the warm weather of the region. During summer, the combination of rainy weather and a reduction of sunlight lead to heightened risk of grape fungal disease. Thus, in order to produce high-quality wines, local growers need to take particular attention that they protect their vineyards from the threat of disease.
Due to its location along China’s coastline, as well as the existence of so many wineries in close proximity to each other, Yantai has been favorably compared to California’s Napa Valley. Without a doubt, it is China’s largest and most important region when measuring only overall wine production.
A province located on the East Coast of China, Hebei is noteworthy primarily because it surrounds the capital city Beijing. Within Hebei, there are distinct wine growing sub-regions, each with its own unique geography. One sub-region is Shacheng, which boasts hilly terroir and is the home of the famous wine company Great Wall Wine Company (one of the Top 3 domestic producers in the country). Shacheng is close to Beijing, which makes it very easy to market and promote its wines to residents of the nation’s capital city. Shacheng has relatively dry weather and plenty of sunlight in summer for growing.
The other sub-region is Changli, which is a coastal area that has been described as “China’s Bordeaux region.” Changli is located close to the Bohai Sea, which results in relatively high humidity. Grape growers must be very careful about the grape disease in these vineyards. Moreover, Changli is located in northern China, so vines require artificial protection to survive the winter.
The primary wines produced in Hebei are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, together with Chardonnay and Marselan (which some have described as China’s new signature grape). In terms of overall sales, production volume and yield, Hebei is No. 2 only to Shandong. On a combined basis, Shandong and Hebei account for more than 50% of al wines that are produced by the domestic Chinese wine industry. While Shandong is larger in terms of annual production, Hebei can boast the prestige of being located near the nation’s capital.
Officially known as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Xinjiang is unique for its relatively remote location at the border of several countries in the Northwest of China. Xinjiang is one of the nation’s largest producers in terms of volume, but mountainous and hilly terrain makes transportation into and out of the province very costly.
The best wineries in Xinjiang are located on the north and south slopes of the Tianshan Mountains. On the north slope is the Manas Basin, and on the south slope is the Yanqi Basin. In addition, there are wineries located in the eastern part of the province near the Turpan Basin, and along the province’s western border with China (a sub-region known as Ili).
Climate conditions in Xinjiang can be extreme. There is limited rainfall at best, and local growers must do their best to deal with drought-like conditions. Moreover, temperature changes between day and night can be quite dramatic. As a result, grapes tend to be high in sugar and low in acidity. These characteristics mean that wine production is primarily based around sweet wines.
Historically, the Xinjiang raisin was famous for its raisin production, not its wine production. Moreover, due to logistical issues involved in moving wine into and out of Xinjiang, it was more profitable to send unblended wine to companies in other Chinese provinces, rather than to bottle at source directly within Xinjiang. Today, Xinjiang remains one of the biggest producers within China.
Located on the border of East Hebei (the Chinese wine region that includes Beijing), Shanxi has been growing in stature recently for its high-quality wines. Most notably, legendary winemaker, Jean Claude Berrouet has partnered with Rongzi Winery to make world-class wines along the famous Loess Plateau. Shanxi is also home to the famous Grace Vineyard.
In terms of topography, Shanxi is mostly a plateau bounded by mountain ranges. These topographical features help to produce a true four-season continental climate. The wine region has low humidity, a high amount of sunlight, and large diurnal temperature variations between day and night.
The most famous wines from Shanxi include Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. While the overall scale of wine production is relatively low, Shanxi is nonetheless considered a rising star on the Chinese wine scene.
Located in the southwest of China, Yunnan is home to a small number of wineries, all of them relatively dispersed throughout the region. This is due, in part, to the mountainous terrain and the hilly areas that are difficult to cultivate. Yunnan is home to several well-known wineries, most notably Yunnan Red Wine Company, which is famous for its use of hybrid grape varieties to produce wines with very distinctive flavor profiles.
Recently, Yunnan has attracted the attention of foreign investors. Most notably, French company Moet-Hennessy has invested in the Shangri-La region located in the northwest part of Yunnan in order to grow organic grapes for red wine production at the Shangri-La Winery. Other notable wineries in Yunnan include Spirit of Highland Winery, Baima Winery, Kang Ding Hong Winery, Passun 1982 and Hong Xing Leader Winery.
Yunnan is known for its humid climate and long growing seasons. While Yunnan is located further south (in terms of latitude) than is generally favorable for viticultural production, the region is fortunate to be located at a higher elevation that produces cooler temperatures. The most elevated regions, located near the Tibet border, are located nearly 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) above sea level. The higher elevation also results in a greater amount of direct sunlight, which is desirable for producing higher-quality wines.
Located in the far northeast of China, Liaoning is primarily famous for its production of ice wines from the Vidal grape. Two important wine producers in Liaoning include Changyu Golden Valley and Wunushan Wines. Changyu Golden Valley is a project of Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, which invested in a lavish chateau project in Liaoning in order to help boost the prestige of Chinese ice wines.
Located in the far northeast of China, Heilongjiang shares a common border with Russia. If there is one region that is poised to grab the title of “best ice wines in China,” it is Heilongjiang. In 2018, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs announced an ambitious new plan to make this region a high-altitude ice wine production base. Heilongjiang is already the nation’s biggest importer of Canadian ice wines, and is the home of five local wineries that produce 300 tons of wine annually (red, white and ice). One notable winery in Heilongjiang is Chateau Fenhe, which makes the award-winning Chateau Fenhe Ice Wine Heilongjiang.
This Chinese province has a long tradition of winemaking, even if its wines are not well known outside of China. The most popular grape in Tianjin is Muscat Hamburg. The region’s primary claim to wine fame is the fact that the first-ever Chinese-foreign wine JV launched in Tianjin - the Sino-French Tianjin Dynasty WIne Company - during the period of economic reforms (the so-called “opening up” of the Chinese economy) in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. This new JV focused on the Muscat Hamburg wine production, which is why this one grape variety has sentimental as well as historical value for many Chinese wine drinkers.
Located in China’s northeast, Jilin borders both North Korea and Russia. While the region is primarily known for its ski resorts, it is justly famous for its production of wines made from the Amur (Vitis Amurensis) grape. This unique grape is frost-resistant, cold resistant, and high in both color and acidity. The Jilin region has a proud tradition of winemaking that goes back more than 100 years. The best wineries in Jilin are located near the Changbai Mountain area.
While Gansu has a long history of winemaking, it is still in the process of boosting the overall quality and yield of its local grape growing techniques. Moreover, Gansu faces very real transport problems that make it difficult to trade wine with neighboring provinces. Gansu boasts a cool climate that leads to a late-ripening grape. The best wineries in Gansu are located in the Wuwei sub-region.
Henan is a legendary agricultural province located in the middle to lower stretches of the Yellow River Valley. The best wineries are located at the boundary of Henan, Anhui, Shandong and Jiangsu provinces. While the region has sought to make a comeback in recent years and is fortunate to be located along the Yellow River, the excessively damp and hot weather in summer makes grape growing in Henan extremely difficult. Overall, Henan is characterized as having a continental climate.
The growth, dynamism and vitality of the domestic Chinese wine industry means that new regions are beginning to emerge. Three of the most notable up-and-comers include Hunan, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and Jiangxi. For now, however, the Chinese wine regions to watch are Ningxia, Shandong, Hebei, Xinjiang and Shanxi.