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Grapes of class: Rising chateau county in Yantai

Updated: 2012-06-28 08:13
By Wang Qian in Yantai, Shandong (China Daily)

 Grapes of class: Rising chateau county in Yantai

Australian visitors are among the 10,000 participants expected for the event.

 Grapes of class: Rising chateau county in Yantai

The opening ceremony for the sixth Yantai International Exposition that began Wednesday in the city.

Roaming around a vast vineyard in China, picking grapes and sampling premium vintages in a European-style castle could seem like a fairy tale.

But those experiences are easily available at dozens of picturesque chateaus scattered along the coast of Yantai in Shandong province.

"The city's favorable natural and investment environment has attracted increasing numbers of domestic and foreign winemakers that have developed vineyards and chateaus, making it the nation's major production center for high-end wines," said Sun Chengxian, chairman of the Yantai Wine Association.

Yantai lies on a latitude similar to France's premier wine producing area of Bordeaux and Italy's Tuscany region. With abundant sunshine, favorable soil and the right humidity, the area is regarded as the best growing region for quality grapes, Sun said.

A decade ago Chateau Changyu-Castel on the outskirts of Yantai became China's first vineyard to be developed to meet international standards.

It was jointly funded by Changyu Pioneer Wine Co Ltd and the Castle Group of France, both top international wine producers.

Covering more than 142 hectares, the grounds include a chateau, a wine museum, an underground cellar, rows of European-style buildings and vast expanse of vineyards, where grapes for some of Changyu's most high-end wines are grown.

The wines - aged and bottled entirely in the chateau - soon became popular on global wine market due to their quality and unique flavor.

The exotic approach of a French-style chateau integrating winemaking, sightseeing and recreation was well-received, prompting a number of domestic and foreign wine producers follow in Changyu's footsteps.

According to Sun, there are now more than 40 chateaus of different features and styles in Yantai.

"These chateaus are not only production sites for premium wines but also hot tourist destinations, attracting more than 1.5 million tourists and wine lovers from all around the country every year," said Sun.

In Penglai, a county-level city of Yantai, alone there are 30 luxury chateaus built by world-renowned wineries including domestic brands Junding and Century Chateaus, France's Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Treaty Port Vineyard from the United Kingdom. They have a combined 6,667 hectares of vineyards under cultivation and produce more than 20,000 tons of high-end wines annually.

Chateau Junding, backed by a 300 million yuan ($47.1 million) investment from China Oil and Foodstuffs Corp, was developed around a scenic lake and covers a total area of 6 square kilometers. Using imported vines from France and Italy, it produces premium wines for well-heeled customers.

It is the first chateau in Asia which has a membership club offering fine wine and cuisine, golf, cigars and other luxuries.

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one of the world's most prestigious winemakers, has acquired a 24.3-hectare site near Penglai to develop its first vineyard and chateau in China. It is projected to produce 120,000 bottles a year.

"We have conducted research on the ideal grape-planting area in Asia for 15 years, and Penglai was our choice," said Eric Kohler from Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

March 20, a key chateau project was launched in the city's Laishan district, which involves a total of 5 billion yuan in backing and covers an area of 70 square kilometer.

Sun from the wine association said "10 more chateaus will be built in Yantai by 2015 targeting the high-end wine market and further promoting wine-themed tourism".

(China Daily 06/28/2012 page24)

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