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The intoxicating rise of Ningxia's wines

China Daily | Updated: September 22, 2022

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Christelle Chene introduces wine from the Xige Estate to a foreign reporter at an international wine exposition held in Ningxia Hui autonomous region on Sept 7. CHINA DAILY

YINCHUAN-For a long time, many Chinese believed that high-quality wine could not be produced domestically, but that is no longer the case.

As a thriving wine industry develops in China, an increasing number of winemakers and professionals from around the world are coming to the country to pursue their winemaking dreams.

Since the beginning of the harvest season in early autumn, Maria Teresa Romero Ponce and her co-workers have been hard at work in a vineyard in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

"China has the potential to produce really good wines," said the 30-year-old viticulturist at the Stone & Moon Winery, one of some 200 trendy wineries located in the eastern foothills of the Helan Mountains. "We cultivate varieties suited to our region and produce wine in a manner that expresses Ningxia."

Ponce has visited many famous wine regions around the world, including France, Spain and her native Chile, but she believes that Ningxia, where she first arrived last year, is the ideal destination to help her achieve her dream of becoming a top winemaker. Ponce also believes that the region's climate contributes to the production of high-quality wine grapes, making it a rising star on the world wine map.

After spending just over 18 months in the region, Ponce feels that she still has a lot to learn but that she is ready to share her experiences in Ningxia with winemakers around the world.

The arid northwestern region has slowly become one of China's major wine-producing areas, and now turns out 130 million bottles a year. According to official data, there were 35,000 hectares of vineyards in the region last year, nearly one-third of the country's total.

The region's burgeoning wine industry has also attracted winery owners and promoters from around the world.

Some 60 international winemakers from 20 countries have been invited by the Ningxia government to improve local vineyard management and winemaking skills. Christelle Chene, 36, was born in France's Burgundy region, which has been long associated with winemaking.

Before coming to Ningxia, she worked for a company selling French wines to Chinese consumers. Since 2019, she has been working for the Xige Estate in the Helan Mountains, promoting Ningxia wine to the international market.

Chene initially thought the job would be tough as few wine importers abroad knew much about Chinese wines, but as a result of the country's vast and rapidly expanding market, more and more people are beginning to pay attention. She sends samples to wine vendors, and the quality is often convincing enough for them to consider conducting further business.

Ningxia wines have also won many international awards in recent years, which has greatly increased their popularity.

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on global logistics, Xige Estate's wine sales have remained stable.

"An increasing number of Chinese people and expats are willing to choose local wines, and that's a good change," Chene said.

As her career has flourished, Chene has bought a home in Ningxia and plans to stay for the next few years.

"I've tried my best to promote Ningxia wine. For me, it's not just my job, it's my passion," she said.

Xinhua