WildChina Travel #114
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Ningxia is a lesser-known autonomous region situated in the north-central part of the People’s Republic of China. It is home to prehistoric petroglyphs, the Tengger desert, the Hui ethnic minority group, and China’s burgeoning wine industry. Ningxia is renowned for more than just its cultural richness, it stands out for its emerging viticulture, making it one of the most important grape-growing regions in China. Gaining international recognition for producing high-quality wines, Ningxia has firmly positioned itself on the global map of wine enthusiasts.
Why Is Ningxia Special?
The region is known for its arid landscapes, guarded by the Helan Mountains to the west, expansive plains along the Yellow River and the vast stretch of the Tengger Desert. Ningxia has a rich and storied history, shaped by the passage of numerous dynasties and the blending of diverse cultural influences. It witnessed imperial rule, played a strategic role during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, was an important passageway along the ancient Silk Road, facilitating trade and cultural exchanges between China’s central regions and the northwestern areas, until eventually, it became the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Today it is home to the Muslim Hui ethnic minority, constituting around 30% of the population.
Ningxia Wine Region
Ningxia boasts a unique winemaking region known as the East Foothills of Helan Mountain.
- This area has gained international recognition, marked by China’s first officially recognized wine appellation.
- In the 1980s, the Chinese government initiated transformative policies aimed at bolstering agriculture in the region, with a specific focus on the wine industry.
- This marked the beginning of vine cultivation in Ningxia, a venture that has since flourished, making the province home to over 200 wineries today.
- Ningxia predominantly cultivates Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Gernischt, yet winemakers actively explore and experiment with various other grape varieties.
Wines from Ningxia
To get through the cold winters, winemakers must bury vines under soil by the end of November, and uncover them in April of the following year, ensuring grapes survive. But despite numerous challenges, the commitment of Ningxia winemakers, combined with a true entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for producing exceptional wines, has earned Ningxia international recognition. In 2011, a Ningxia wine won a gold medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards. The East Foothill of Helan Mountain was included in the “World Atlas of Wine” in 2013.
Visiting Ningxia's Wineries
Producing high-quality wine in Ningxia is no easy task, even though the region shares a similar latitude to Bordeaux and Napa Valley. The reason is the challenging climate, with extreme temperature variations, minimal rainfall and long harsh winters.
The best time to visit Ningxia’s wineries is during spring when the temperatures are mild or in late summer and early autumn, when the grapes are being harvested. Though winter season offers its allure, with temperatures going down to -13℉ (-25°C), visitors can witness the extraordinary sight of vines being carefully buried underneath.
WildChina Wine Expert — Kiki Chen
Kiki holds a Master’s degree in Comparative Local Development and is now pairing this with her ongoing WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) studies to contribute to Ningxia’s newest economic development source in a sustainable way.
A multi-award winning winery founded in 2011 by the China-born German businesswoman Wang Fang, renowned for its Riesling.
Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling.
Silver Heights Winery
A family-owned organic winery with female founder Emma Gao standing at the helm.
Varieties: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir.
A small winery with a big reputation, best known for producing marselan, a hybrid of grenache and cabernet sauvignon grapes engineered by French scientists in the 1960s.
Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Gernischet.
Home to one of the most modern wine producing facilities with stunning architecture in Ningxia.
Varieties: Chardonnay, Malbec, Cabernet Gernsicht, Marselan, Gewürztraminer.
What Other Experiences Can You Enjoy in Ningxia Besides Wine Tasting?
- Visiting The Western Xia Imperial Tombs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Star gazing at the vineyard hotel
- Off-road Jeep Tour of Helan Mountains
- Exploring the ancient section of the Great Wall