China has rapidly increased in importance in the wine world since the late 1980s when it opened its doors to foreign investment. It has gone from a country that drunk more spirits or beer than wine to a country that buys more fine Bordeaux than any other. This interest in the fine wines of Bordeaux has lead to plantings escalating to 560,000ha – making China the sixth most important producer of wine in the world. Less than 1% of wine is exported which explains why not many people outside of the wine trade know about its existence as a wine producing country.
Main Grapes or styles
Indigenous grape varieties make up close to 90% of China’s plantings, though most of these are used for raisin production or general table grapes. It is the increasing plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that are most important – reflecting their love-affair with red Bordeaux. As vines are getting older and the best vineyard spots are being found these wines are getting riper – but overall they have a long way to being close to the quality of even entry-level Bordeaux.
In the far west the region of Xinjiang is most important – this is guided by altitude plantings within the Heavenly Mountains. The far east is more coastal and vineyards are on flatter ground. Here the leading sub-regions are Hebei, Shangdong and Tianjing.
Climate and its effect on the wines made here
China’s vineyards are largely planted in the far west or east, both of which are very cold regions that struggle to ripen grapes. It is for this reason that altitude planting has been a necessity in order to help gain ripeness. Vineyards in the southern coastline of the far east have had more success in recent years – being on the same latitude as California and France.