While it might lack the prestige and name brand recognition of Ningxia, the wine region of Shanxi is starting to make a name for itself on the world stage. One of the most important Chinese wine producers, for example, is Grace Vineyards, which is based in Shanxi. In 2011, Grace Vineyards was one of the stars of the much-hyped “Bordeaux vs. Ningxia” wine competition that took place in Beijing. Both nationally and internationally, Grace Vineyards is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
The leading grape varieties in Shanxi include Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat, Chardonnay and Merlot. The two major wine production areas within Shanxi include the Taiyuan Basin and the Loess Plateau. While the Taiyuan Basin has traditionally been the viticultural center of the region, in recent years, international wine experts have explored the potential of the Loess Plateau. Most significantly, the new Rongzi Winery hired internationally famous winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet as a wine consultant.
In terms of size, Shanxi has a total area of 60,000 square miles (155,000 square kilometers). To the east of Shanxi is Hebei, and to the west is the Yellow River, which winds along the western border of Shanxi. The nearest major city is Beijing, which is located 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the provincial capital of Taiyuan.
From a climate perspective, Shanxi has a continental climate. However, due to the East Asian Monsoon, the region can receive significant rainfall in summer and high humidity. This can pose significant problems for grape growers, who must be vigilant for the risks of fungal disease. Rainfall can vary from year to year, resulting in vintage variations. In general, the higher altitudes found in the region, combined with abundant sunshine, leads to balanced, high-quality wines. The cold, dry winters are made even colder, due to the influence of Siberia, so extensive efforts must be made to protect vines in winter. Vintners typically bury the vines, to protect them from the cold frost and freezing winds, a process that can be very labor-intensive.
In the area surrounding the city of Taiyuan, the soil type tends toward deep sandy loam, and that has been a real boon for local irrigation efforts. Vines are able to put down deep, healthy roots. This soil, in fact, has often been cited as one of the reasons why Grace Vineyards has had so much success with its production of Cabernet Sauvignon.
As Shanxi’s star continues to rise on the global scene, the leaders of the province are starting to take a much deeper look at how the overall economy of the region impacts the wine industry. For example, coal mining is still big business in Shanxi, and that has led to concerns about poor air quality and pollution. Interestingly, a number of coal mining companies are now starting to invest in local vineyards, as a sign of their willingness to promote the ecological sustainability of the region. As these efforts grow, Shanxi will see its overall level of wine production rise, as well as the level of foreign investment in the region looking to capitalize on Shanxi’s unique climate and terroir.