Not only is China an economic superpower, it has also emerged as a superpower in grape production. In global rankings, China is the fifth largest wine producer in the world. Ningxia, traditionally one of the country’s poorest areas, is repositioning itself as the Bordeaux of China. With the main trade route to Central Asia passing through it, the semi-autonomous region located in the northeast has been a cultural melting pot throughout history. Ningxia has a desert terrain, is sparsely populated and better known for its sheep, goji berries and dates.
In the late 1990s, the Chinese government planned a huge initiative to transform this area into a premier wine-growing region: it gets 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, meaning that grapes here will reach optimum maturity. On the downside, Ningxia has brutal winters, with temperatures falling below minus 20 degrees Celsius. Vines have to be buried under the soil by hand to survive the cold, and this labour-intensive process increases production cost.
Li Demei, associate professor of wine tasting and oenology at Beijing Agricultural College, says the cost of producing wine is higher in Ningxia than in Europe.
Another drawback is the lack of water. Ningxia is an arid region with 200mm of rainfall a year. The Yellow River is the chief water source and irrigation is critical for production.
Ningxia has overcome its natural obstacles and today has 30,000 hectares under vine. The government target is for 66,700 hectares under vine by 2020. There are more than 70 wineries, with many more under construction.
One up and coming winery is Legacy Peak. Founded in 1997, it is located close to the imposing tombs of the Xixia kings, which owner Liu Hai describes as the Chinese version of the Egyptian pyramids. He believes the area has good feng shui with protection from the Helan Mountains, and an ample supply of bore water – that which has been drawn from under the ground – to irrigate the vines. Legacy Peak’s 17- year-old vines are highly prized and mature, with extensive root systems that produce highly concentrated fruit.
Originally, Legacy Peak supplied grapes to local wineries whose wines went on to win competition medals. Recognising the high quality of his grapes, Liu decided to make his own wine. He has partnered up with Edouard Duval, the sixth generation to his family to run Champagne Duval-Leroy. With his international marketing experience, Duval is actively engaged in the winemaking process and distributes the wines globally.
Legacy Peak Chardonnay 2014
Vibrant citrus and pear laced with spicy oak notes. Powerful and full bodied with intense fruit, moderate acidity and finishing with lashings of oak. Still young, shows great varietal expression and will benefit from longer cellaring. HK$288
Legacy Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Blackcurrant, licorice, some tobacco. Juicy ripe fruit, with well integrated oak tannins and long finish. HK$362
Legacy Peak Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2011
A blend of 85 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 15 per cent merlot. Matured in new French barriques for 19 months.
Ripe sweet black fruit, plummy with minty notes. Very plush, intensely fruity with soft velvety tannins. Reminiscent of a ripe Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. HK$650
Wines from EMW Fine Wines; emw-wines.com