China’s wine regions: Shanxi

Known as a major coal mining province in China, Shanxi’s coal production has fuelled the country’s fast-track economic development for decades. Its ancient courtyards, traditional Yaodong or cave dwellings are dotted around the landscape of the arid Shanxi Plateau, part of the Loess Plateau in northwestern China. Winemaking in the northern province is limited but the province is said to be among the first places in China to experiment with winemaking; Qingxu County, south of its provincial Capitial Taiyuan, has records showing winemaking history that dates back to 2,000 years.

Source: China Highlights

The inland region enjoys a typical continental climate, and most vineyards are located either on on terraced hills or in the foothills of the mountain range in the southeastern part of the province. Its wine production in 2015 was 4,700 kilolitres, far below Xinjiang’s production.

Leading wineries in the region include Grace Vineyard, Qingxu and Château Rongzi. Located 800 to 900 metres above sea level, Grace Vineyard in Taigu county, 40 kilometres south of the provincial capital Taiyuan, is leading the pack, producing wines from Bordeaux blends to lesser known varieties, such as Aglianico and Marselan.

The winery takes up about 50% market share in the local province in terms of wine sales, with the rest being Changyu and Great Wall, according to a report by Hua Xia Wine News.

While high quality winemaking is already evident, there remains an experimental element as winemakers are trying to find consistency in quality. The local silty sand soil provides vines with good drainage and conductivity but with strong winds blowing down from Shanxi Plateau, it is also subject to erosion. Based on the soil composition and analysis, starting from 2006, Grace Vineyard started to plant Aglianico and Marselan, and additional new varieties have been planted since 2013 in small quantities including Saperavi, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Its vineyard sites in Taigu, for example, enjoy an average of 190 free-frost days annually, the winery says, but diseases still threaten production, which are mainly spider mites and trunk disease. In recent years, the winery has expanded its foothold and purchased more vineyard sites in Ningxia and neighbouring Shaanxi provinces.

Judy Chan

Judy Chan, CEO of the family-owned boutique winery, chats to dbHK about making wines in China, how Chardonnay differs in Shanxi and Ningxia provinces as well as the challenges of managing her winery.

Is winemaking a new concept in Shanxi province? From technical point of view, why did you choose Shanxi over other regions?

It was 20 years ago (this year is Grace Vineyard’s 20th Anniversary). I believe that each region in China (above the Yellow River) has its own character. The key is to find which grape to grow where. For instance, I believe Chardonnay is a great one for Shanxi. It has better acidity than Ningxia. Shanxi has a very large difference between day and night time temperature. Our sandy soil is well drained and we have plenty of sunshine.

As a Chinese winemaker, what are the biggest common misconceptions the international trade have about winemaking in China? 

I believe most people still think that China only produces low-end wines. It was the case in the past, but more and more producers are focusing on producing better quality wines. We put a lot of effort into Research & Development, like what to plant, where to plant, what wine to make. Without an AOC-like system, we have more freedom to experiment.

Compared with other wine regions in the world, what are the problems unique to winemaking in China?

We have to bury the vines in winter, which is costly, labor intensive and affects the way we prune. Also, we tend to have summer rain in August which can be a big problem in certain years.

Managing Grace Vineyard, from first founding the winery till now, what was the biggest challenge you encountered?

It seems like we just keep having new challenges every year. I guess this is what keeps me going every day. Grace Vineyard was one of the few wineries in China really that focused on producing quality Chinese wine. It was a concept unheard of and it wasn’t easy to convince people that we walked the walk, talked the talk. Also, many people at that time didn’t even know we produced wines in China. I remember we were at a wine exhibition back in 2003, a guy came and wanted to taste the wine.  He asked where the wine was from. When I told him it was from China, he turned around and left. Now, it’s very different. Partially it’s because many people have heard of Grace Vineyard and are curious about wine from China. We have been one of the busiest booths at Vinexpo Hong Kong for several years in a row.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please note that comments are subject to our posting guidelines in accordance with the Defamation Act 2013. Posts containing swear words, discrimination, offensive language and libellous or defamatory comments will not be approved.

We encourage debate in the comments section and always welcome feedback, but if you spot something you don't think is right, we ask that you leave an accurate email address so we can get back to you if we need to.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Key Account Manager

MMI Maldives

Financial Controller

London City Bond
Barking, UK

Duty Manager

The Whisky Exchange
Great Portland Street, London

Spirits Advisor

The Whisky Exchange
London, UK

International Sales Manager

Elixir Distillers
Park Royal, London, UK

Brand Marketing Executive

Elixir Distillers
Park Royal, London, UK

Cellar Door Manager

House of Townend
Melton, North Ferriby, UK

Marketing Assistant

Bancroft Wines Ltd
London, UK

Marketing Manager

The Whisky Exchange
Whitby Avenue, Park Royal, London NW10 7SF

Millésime Bio 2020

27th Jan 2020

Maisons Marques et Domaines Annual Tasting

London,United Kingdom
29th Jan 2020

Austrian Wine Tasting

London,United Kingdom
3rd Feb 2020
Click to view more