Wine Production in China
China could outdo many better-known producer countries when it comes to the length of its viticultural history. The earliest known Chinese grape wine dates from the Neolithic era, according to evidence discovered at the Jiahu site in Henan Province. The domestication of vines in China began in around 1046-256 BCE. During the Han Dynasty, vitis vinifera was introduced to China from central Asia in Shaanxi Province, near modern-day Xi’an. Despite and throughout this long- standing history, the Chinese never developed a strong taste for grape wine, however, and the first modern winery – Changyu, in Shandong Province – would not open until 1892.
In recent years, China has been making up for lost time and currently boasts the 2nd largest area under vine in the world with 847,000 ha of vineyards (Spain leads the way followed by France in 3rd place). According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), China’s vineyard area continues to increase (+17,000 ha between 2015 and 2016), making it “the main growth area of vineyards worldwide”. China is the 5th global wine consuming country (preceded by the USA, France, Italy and Germany), the 5th largest global importer of wine in terms of volume, and the 4th biggest global importer by value (closing in on Germany). Chinese domestic demand is “the biggest contributory factor to trade growth”.
Currently, the most popular red varietal is Cabernet-Sauvignon and the most common white is Chardonnay. More than 80% of all wine produced is red.
But China has several unique grape varieties grown for wine production. These include several hybrid grapes that are crosses between Chinese and European or American grapes first brought to China by Western missionaries. Approximately 39 wild grape strains also exist in China, some of which have been grown in other countries. Names such as Longyan or Dragon’s Eye, Shuanghong, Beihong, Beimei, Beibinghong and Gongzhubai, all of which were presented in the tasting hosted by Jicheng Zhan, may not yet be familiar to wine drinkers around the world, but they may rise to prominence in the future. The country also grows the Kyoho grape, primarily for food but sometimes also used to make wine in China, whilst the Hutai grape is used to make ice wine in Shaanxi Province.