Wine consumption is on the rise in China to such an extent that the market for top quality Bordeaux classed growths is going through the ceiling. Not content with buying all the imported wine they can get their hands on, the newly affluent Chinese are planting many a vine. Despite being in temperate latitudes, much of China is climatically hostile to the grapevine. Like the United States, whose latitudes are similar, the center of the country sees vast temperature extremes, vine-killing frost in winter and too much heat in summer, Similarly, the east coast sees humidity and over-eager monsoons. Unlike the US, China does not have the equivalent of California in its west—Tibet is hardly wine country. The Chinese use ingenuity to get around all this. Shandong and Hebei, near the capital of Beijing, work with a favorable maritime climate to produce vinifera grapes. Shandong’s Yantai-Penglai, with over 140 wineries, produces 40% of China’s wine. Entrepreneurial wine producers have begun to move due west, to Shanxi, and Ningxia (which recently beat Bordeaux wines in a blind Cabernet tasting). Yunnan, with help from Australian winemakers, is beating its low latitude with the usual antidote, altitude.
The grapevine in China’s northwest Central Asian region of Xinjiang dates back to Greek settlers who followed the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. Marco Polo mentions Xinjiang’s wine in his Travels. Today Xinjiang is a careful producer of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Reliable statistics are hard to come by where China is concerned, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah appear to be the most widely planted wine grapes. To cohabit with the international grapes, investment from abroad might account for up to half of Chinese vineyard and winery development.