Q: Which wine region has 80,000 acres of vines on the edge of a desert?
A: Ningxia, China.
Yes, Ningxia wine has been getting some media attention this year and rightly so: eye-popping growth with high quality ambitions and a somewhat unlikely place–500 miles inland from Beijing in a desolate, arid area on the edge of the Gobi Desert–make for a good story.
The Times ran a couple of stories yesterday, including a piece of what’s been going on of late (rampant planting), who’s there (the French), and where the locals are getting their savoir faire (France again). Eric Asimov also tastes some wines from the region that were brought back by Jane Sasseen who wrote the first story. Asimov finds the wines “competently made” and “very drinkable.”
But if Ningxia aims to be “the next Napa Valley,” as they do with their focus on estate wines, the Ningxia wine bureau (yes there is such a thing) should take a page from Napa’s playbook and pass reforms that make it so Ningxia wines can only be made with grapes from the region. That would help producers in their pursuit of building their awareness of their region since labeling laws are quite weak in China, allowing not only grapes from other regions but even other countries to be blended in to wines marketed as “Chinese wines.” (I think a wine only has to have 10% wine from China to be labeled “Chinese wine” so the labeling laws are quite weak.)
Napa Valley had problems with grapes from lower-priced regions being brought in and sold as Napa wines so the producers united and litigated all the way to the state Supreme Court. Now, Napa on the bottle means Napa in the bottle, something that helps producers with their brand building and consumers in knowing what they’re getting. The Ningxia wineries should push for similar standards if it aims to have its wines compete on the world stage.
If you want to see some video, here’s a link to a CBS piece on Ningxia.