China’s wine industry has a rich history, with the earliest written records dating back to the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (140-88 BC). This period marked the inception of China’s grape cultivation and winemaking industry, which was sparked by Zhang Qian’s return from his envoy to the Western Regions. However, the industry experienced a downturn with the decline of the Han Dynasty, only to flourish again during the Wei, Jin, Southern, and Northern Dynasties.
By the Tang Dynasty (618-907), wine had reached its mature stage. The Tang army’s conquest of Gaochang (now Turpan, Xinjiang) in the 13th year of Emperor Taizong’s Zhenguan (640) led to the acquisition of local high-quality horse milk grapes and brewing technology. Prime Minister Wei Zheng emerged as the most renowned winemaker of the Tang Dynasty, earning praise from Emperor Tang Taizong Li Shimin for his grape brewing skills.
The development of wine reached its zenith during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
In the late Qing Dynasty (1840-1911), Zhang Bishi, a legendary figure, emerged. He founded the Changyu Grape Wine Company, introduced oak barrels for wine storage, brought in fine European grape varieties for winemaking, established purebred vineyards, and adopted modern European winemaking techniques to produce high-quality wines. Zhang Bishi is considered a pioneer in the industrial production of wine in China.
According to the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), between 2000 and 2011, China’s total grape planting area (including plantations producing table grapes and wine grapes) almost doubled, reaching 560,000 hectares. This data indicates that since the turn of the century, China has become the sixth largest wine producer in the world.
China’s Wine Regions and Grape Varieties
China’s wine production is mainly concentrated in ten regions: Jiaodong Peninsula, Hebei, Tianjin, Yellow River old road, Ningxia, Gansu, Northeast, Xinjiang, Southwest, and Shanxi. In 2015, there were 219 wine production enterprises above designated size (referring to enterprises with an annual production and sales volume equal to or greater than 20 million yuan), and the total output of wine production was 1,148,000 kiloliters (including about 140,000 kiloliters of imported raw wine). The wine producers with the largest annual output in China include Changyu, COFCO, CITIC Guoan, Dynasty, Weilong, Longhui, Fengshou, Zixuan, Helanshan, Tonghua, Mogao, Huangtai.
In China, red grape varieties account for about 79%, white grape varieties about 20%, and a small amount of dyed varieties. China introduces and promotes the world’s excellent wine grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Gernischet, Pinot Noir, Syrah (Shiraz), Marselan (Marselan), Petit Verdot (Petit Verdot) and native varieties of mountain grape (V.amurensis), hairy grape (Vitis quinquangularis Rehd), thorny grape (Vitis davidii var), etc. The white grape varieties include Chardonnay, Riesling, Ugni blanc, Dragon Eye, Italian Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. Thedyed wine varieties currently planted in China mainly include Yan 74, Yan 74, Canepabn and Alicante Bouschet. Among the wine grapes, the imported varieties with the largest cultivation area are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Gernischt, and Chardonnay.
Each of these regions has unique characteristics in terms of climate, soil, and grape varieties, contributing to the diversity of Chinese wine. For example, the Jiaodong Peninsula region, including the northern hills of Shandong Peninsula and Daze Mountain, is known for its igneous rock hills, gentle slopes, wide valleys, and thick soil layers. The climate is mild due to the influence of the ocean, and the main grape varieties include Chardonnay, Guirenxiang, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Gernischt, Merlot, Carignan, Ugni Blanc, etc.
In addition to these main wine production areas, there are many wine grape planting and wine production bases scattered throughout the country, such as Xiaojin, Maoxian, and Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan, Yongfu, Luocheng, Du’an in Guangxi, and Wuhai in Inner Mongolia, Kailu, Ulan Buhe Desert, Huxian, Danfeng, Yulin, Weibei in Shaanxi, Huangpi in Hubei, Lixian in Hunan, Chongyi in Jiangxi, etc.