Wine grapes have been grown in Ningxia since 1982, when large Chinese wine producers such as Changyu, Great Wall, and Dynasty established vineyards in the region. However，at that time, most grapefruits were sold to other regions for winemaking.
In the late 1990s，the local government of NingXia started to set a series of policies to encourage wine industry in this area. A wave of winemakers, investors including Pernod Richar and LVMH were attracted by the generous policies, and，more importantly, the potential for making good wines of Ningxia.
Since the mid 20th century, Ningxia has seen a continual improvement in the wine quality. In 2011, one Ningxia wine, named Jia Bei Lan 2009 Cabernet Blend from He Lan Qing Xue winery, won the Red Bordeaux Varietal Over £10 International Trophy- the highest level award at the Decanter Worldwide Wine Awards, which surprised judges and attracted more attention to this Chinese wine region- Ningxia.
Climate and Grape Growing
Lying in the northwest inland plateau of China, Ningxia is a very dry, desert-like region and features a diverse geography of forested mountains and hills, table lands, deserts, flood plains and basins cut through by the Yellow River. During the growing season, water can be drawn from the Yellow River. Drip irrigation is compulsory in this region due to the scarcity of water resources.
Most of the province’s vineyards are found at the east foothills of Helan Mountain which runs in the northwest of the province, forming a narrow-belt shape vine growing area. Infertile，well-drained sierozem and sand soils are well suited to viticulture. The East Foothills of Helan Mountain is the first demarcated PGI wine region in China.
On the western side, Helan Mountain shelters the vineyards from the prevailing northwest cold wind, lowering the risks of spring frosts. On the eastern side, extends the fertile agricultural land—NingXia Plain, through which the Yellow River flows.
With an average altitude of more than 1000m, this narrow-belt-shape vine growing area has a cool continental climate with hot and dry summers and extremely cold winter. The combination of long sunshine hours, long ripening period, and significant diurnal difference(10-15℃) allows grapes to reach high levels of sugar and flavor ripeness while retaining acidity.
In winter, the temperature can drop below minus 20℃，thus using sand and earth to bury the vines is a necessary practice to protect the vines against the coldness and dryness.
There are more than 20 varieties being grown in this region, with black varieties covering more than 90% of the total vineyards.
Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for more than 70% of the black variety. Ningxia Cabernet Sauvigon produce brawny wines with very deep color, high alcohol and high tannin. and tend to have intense floral and fruity flavors in youth.
Cabernet Gernischet, which is believed to be related to Cabernet Franc or Carmener, is regarded as China’s own variety. It is a late-ripening variety with big berries, producing wines with moderate color, concentrated fruity aroma and typical green pepper, grass flavor. Grown in sand soil, it makes leaner wines with Chinese herb character and moderate tannin. It is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot accounts for 15% of the black variety, and has been increasing in recent years. It ripens well in warm, sierozem dominated soil, and display elegant aromas. It is widely used to make Bordeaux-style blends.
Marselan (Cabernet×Grenache) , which is considered to be the future signature grape of China, also shows great potential in Ningxia. It has large-sized bunch with small berries, with strong disease-resistance ability, making wines with deep purple color, high tannin and intense aromas of lychee, nuts and vanilla.
Dornfelder, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot are also planted though in small volume.
Chardonnay accounts for more than 70% of the white variety. This variety is particularly resistant to white rot. Strong sunshine in Ningxia has given the berries golden color, making straw-colored wines with concentrated perfume characterized by a typical acacia flower aroma, high in alcohol, developing toast, vanilla, and nut flavours as mature in oak.
Italian Riesling is widely planted in Ningxia. Its prominent navel makes its appearance different from Riesling. Its thin-skin makes it relatively sensitive to white rot. It can make dry or half-dry, light-colored fresh wines with high acidity and floral aromas.
Riesling in Ningxia can reach high ripeness, giving full-bodied wines of concentrated ripe fruit and floral aromas and flavors. Vidal is also planted in some parts of Ningxia to make icewines with concentrated fruity, honey and floral aromas.
Wine Regions and Wineries
From north to south, there are 6 sub regions along the east foothills of Helan Mountain: Shizuishan, Helan, Yinchuan, Yongning, Qingtongxia and Hongsipu.
Helan is located to the north of Suyukou, with alluvial landforms. Gravels become more and bigger closer to the mountains, while in the foothills sandy soils dominate. The total vineyard area is around 1333ha, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Marselan and Pinot Noir being planted. Wineries in this region are Chateau Yuange, Yuan Run Winery, Guanlan Vineyard, Jade Vineyard and Yunling.
Yinchuan is among the earliest wine regions known for premium wineries in China, the total vineyard area has reached 3333 ha with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Gernischt, Chardonnay, Marselan and Riesling being planted on gravel soils. Wineries in this region are HelanQingxue Vineyard, Chateau Yuanshi, Silver Height, Kannan Winery, Legacy Peak, Chateau Lanny, DomainePushang, Domaine Cheng Cheng, Chateau September and Domaine Des Aromes.
Yongning Yuquanying is the cradle for Ningxia wine industry. This regions runs from west to east with two distinct groups of vineyards on differing soils. To the west, closer to the Helan mountain, the vineyards have alluvial gravel soils; To the east, sandy soils dominate. Wineries here tend to be large in scale with relatively high volume of wines. The vineyard area is more than 10,000 ha. Main varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Gernischt, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Italian Riesling. Wineries in this region are Xi Xia King, Chateau Yuquan, DomaineChandon, Leirenshou, Ho-Lan Soul, Chateau Yunmo, Lilan Winery, PernodRicard, Chateau Saint Louis Ding and Chateau Bacchus.
Qingtongxia is located at the southernmost of Helan Mountains. Dominant sierozemsoil is low in organic matter, weak in water retention capacity but high in trace elements. The vineyard area is about 7,000 ha. Main varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Italian Riesling. Wineries in this region are Emperial Horse, Yuhuang Chateau,The Wens, Huahao Winery, Jinshawan Winery, Damona Winery, Hollyfun Winery, Gan Cheng Zi Wines, Domaine Fontaine Sable and Sunnoon Winery.
Hongsipu is located at the southernmost of Ningxia wine region. Porous sierozem soils contain high percentage of silt, low percentage of sand and clay, with relatively good water and nutrients binding capacity. The total vineyard area is about 6666 hectares. Main varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Gernischt, Vidal, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir. Wineries in this region are Chateau Huida, Ruifeng Wines, Purple Melody, Hansen Ningxia, H.F Jiarong, Kanglong Winery, Zhonghe Winery