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Wine on the Chinese Silk Road

With an exclusive translation of the summary of Sherry Weng’s book The Wine & Culture Journey of The China Silk Road, the author takes a special look at winemaking and wine tourism in Gansu Province.

Sherry Weng image
Wine educator and author Sherry Weng (Photo: AOW)

Background

The Chinese wine regions are full of potential and surprises. It is considered as one of the fastest emerging markets in terms of demand and production. In 2013, I was lucky to have the chance to visit the wineries on the Silk Road. This truly changes one’s perspective of the Chinese wine regions.

My first book, The Wine & Culture Journey of The China Silk Road, records the fascinating trip in Gansu Province in China. It is not too hard to try Chinese wines from time to time as a wine lover; however, it is an important step to visit the wineries in China in order to get a close picture of the region.

History

The wine-producing region in Gansu Province is called the “Hexi Corridor”. Gansu is one of the Chinese provinces that owns a rich culture for more than 2,000 years. Ancient poetry has described the beauty of the wine from Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province. Gansu is located on the Silk Road. It is the bridge between the Western and Eastern worlds. Silk Road in China can actually be divided into three routes: firstly, the desert (oasis) Silk Road; secondly, the prairie Silk Road, and thirdly, the sea Silk Road. Hexi Corridor is on the desert (oasis) Silk Road. This area has a wide desert, snowy mountains and the splendid scenery. Deserts in Gansu Province surround the four major wine cities. Low rainfall and dry conditions give a suitable environment for the organic wines here. The four major oasis cities on the Hexi Corridor are Wuwei, Zhangye, Jiuquan and Dunhuang.

The secret of the terroir in China

Wine in Europe emphasizes the importance of terroir in particular. The wine regions in Gansu Province also resemble Bordeaux, Burgundy, Toscana, and the Napa Valley. So, what is the mystery to make Gansu wines so attractive? It is due to the high-quality grapes. The Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province has unique terroir. The wine region here is located in the interior of the continent, and also close to the Gobi desert. This results in the limited rainfall at less than 200mm annually. Therefore, humidity is less problematic and disease is less likely. This gives an advantage for wineries in Gansu Province to produce organic because less pesticide is used.

The local wineries have been constructed since the 1980s. Before they start wine production, the Chinese government has already done the long-term investment and improved the quality of soil. The windbreaks and the channel of water irrigation have also been constructed. Hexi Corridor in Gansu relies heavily on irrigation. The water supply mainly comes from the melting snow in Qilian Mountains. These mountains are over 4,000 meters high and located in the south of the Hexi Corridor. The melting snow irrigates the region and turns the dessert into green vineyards.

Another benefit of this region is due to its temperature differentiation between day and night. The temperate differentiation can be 9 to 15 degrees Celsius. This helps the grape to have the opportunity to develop its flavour, sugar and acidity over time. The ice wines perform extremely well in the region. Moreover, the Pinot Noir grapes in Gansu Provinces have relatively good growth due to environment advantage. In addition, the Cabernet Sauvignon wines are less astringent but boast silky tannins with well-balanced structure.

Wine Tourism

The Silk Road has been the connection between the Eastern and Western cultures for many centuries. It also bought the wine culture from the West to Mainland China thousands of years ago. These characteristics are also kept in the winery decoration, wine labels and wine philosophy.

In 2012, Wuwei city in Gansu Province was named as the first wine city in China. I was lucky to be invited as a guest speaker to talk about the “past, present, and future” vision of this wine region. There are many wineries worth a visit in the Hexi Corridor. I would like to highlight two wineries in Gansu Province from the wine tourism perspective. The best known winery in Wuwei city is called Mogao winery, which started in the early 1980s. The Pinot Noir wine is one of its flagships. It combines entertainment and function through the wine club and wine tourism for the public, but also invests a lot in the wine development in terms of grape growing. The Pinot family has a great performance here such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and also Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Qilian winery is few miles away from Guofeng winery, which is located in the Zhangye city. This winery started in 1996, and its ice wine made from Italian Riesling is well worth a try. The winemaking team are all from China. Qilian winery has a very impressive wine cellar, which combines the Western and Eastern culture characteristics. Chinese poems and great paintings enrich the culture element in the cellar.

In addition, if you travel further West on the Hexi Corridor, you will be able to reach the very popular Zixuan Winery in Jiuquan city and also Dunhuang winery in Dunhuang city. They are both interesting to visit, and you will benefit a lot with the rich history here.

So how about starting your first Wine & Culture Journey from Gansu Province in China? If you want to travel through the Hexi Corridor, you need to be prepared. A Silk Road journey will take you more than 1,000 km to travel. Having said that, it is a great pleasure to explore the place, and it is definitely one of the best ways to explore the Chinese wine regions.

About the author: Sherry Weng

Sherry Weng is the AOW Chief Wine Educator (AOW stands for Art Of Wine). Sherry is a WSET Level 4 Diploma holder and a Master of Wine candidate from Taiwan. She used to live in Bordeaux, the UK and China and is also a frequent traveler to Spain, Italy, France and America. Her book The Rising Star for the Global Wine Market: Wine & Culture Journey of The China Silk Road has won the International Gourmand Award.

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