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Wine industry expands in Gobi, nudging French competitors

China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-21 07:18
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Wine merchant Chen Deqi discusses his business with winemakers at his vineyard in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region. Chen started the vineyard in 2007 and built a successful wine brand. PENG ZHAOZHI/XINHUA

YINCHUAN-In the past few years, a large expanse of the Gobi Desert in northwest China has gained an international reputation for its vineyards.

At a latitude similar to that of France's Bordeaux region, the eastern foothills of the Helan Mountains in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region are optimal for planting quality wine grapes.

Chen Deqi, from Fujian province, owns a vineyard in Ningxia. He said the Gobi is an ideal place to grow grapes because of its abundant sunshine, variable temperature range and rocky, sandy soil that provides rich minerals and good air circulation.

Many investors have been attracted to build vineyards in Ningxia, including the French wine and spirits company Pernod Ricard; the world's largest cognac producer, Hennessy; and Chinese winemaker Changyu, according to Zhao Shihua, an expert from the region's grape industry development authority.

Sixty winemakers from 23 countries and regions currently have links to vineyards in Ningxia, said Zhao.

With an ever-growing number of wine consumers, China has become a promising and dynamic market for global winemakers. According to the International Organization of Vine and Wine, China is the fifth-largest wine consuming country in the world.

A report from the Bordeaux Wine Council said China continues to be Bordeaux's largest overseas market, with its exports to China reaching a record high in 2017.

Today, the wine industry has become an important sector of Ningxia's economy. The area of wine grapes in the region has expanded to 38,000 hectares, accounting for one-fourth of China's wine grape planting area. There are 86 wine chateaus in the region, producing 120 million bottles of wine worth a total of 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) per year.

Developing the wine industry is also an important part of Ningxia's poverty alleviation program. The number of people living in poverty has been reduced by 674,500 since 2012, with 239,000 still remaining in poverty in 2017, or 3.5 percent of Ningxia's population, government figures show.

Ningxia's annual per capita disposable income for rural residents in 2017 was 10,738 yuan, much lower than China's average of 13,432 yuan.

Six years ago, Lin Bin and his family moved from impoverished Longde county in Ningxia's southern mountains to work in the vineyards. Lin, 27, said he can earn more than 30,000 yuan a year.

Ningxia's wine industry has provided 120,000 jobs for residents like Lin who have moved from poor areas, according to local authorities.

Though expanding at a fast pace, there is still a long way to go before Ningxia develops into an international wine base. Local winemakers said Ningxia's wine industry is still young in terms of brand reputation, commercial management and mass production.

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