News Special Coverage Industry Overview Supply & Demand Price Reference Forum

Ningxia raises a glass to business success

China Daily by QU YINGPU,ZHU BAOXIA and LIU ZHIHUA05/09/2022  

Workers carry harvested grapes at a vineyard in Yongning county, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, in October 2019. [Photo/China Daily]

Region's wine industry among those turning adverse conditions into advantage

In 2017, despite receiving poor reviews from a top French wine expert on a new single varietal it had started to make, a newly established winery in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region decided to place the product in barrels for aging.

The wine was made from Cabernet Gernischt, a grape commonly found in China, but at the time the grape was not considered good enough for making quality wine.

However, after being aged for a year, the single varietal exhibited an amazing floral complexity with a distinctive aroma of herbal medicine, astonishing and charming the French expert.

Zhang Yanzhi, owner of the winery, said, "We found this grape variety in our old vineyard, and it had adapted extremely well to the terroir of the Helan Mountain region.

"The discovery was like cleaning a pearl covered in dust to see it shine," he said, adding that the wine, which is highly popular with consumers, has since won numerous accolades in China and overseas.

Hard work and innovation have helped transform Ningxia from a barren and arid area in the eastern foothills of the Helan Mountain into the rising star of new-wine regions.

About two hours from Beijing by plane, Ningxia is known for desolate deserts and ancient tomb sites, but it is also rich in green and beautiful scenery.

In recent years, the region has focused on developing the grape and wine industry, among others, to make full use of its distinctive geographic and climatic conditions.

Wine-grape growing areas in Ningxia Hui autonomous region cover more than 35,000 hectares, one-third of such areas nationwide. [Photo/Xinhua]

Other industries tapping the "unfavorable" dry climate include the goji berry trade, dairy and beef cattle, and Tan sheep. The Tan sheep, a distinctive breed, is known for its tender meat. These plants and cattle are less prone to diseases when they are in arid regions.

Ningxia has developed the clean energy industry, as the Gobi Desert provides vast space for solar farms, without encroaching on arable land.

These businesses are the best examples of following directives given by President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, who has stressed on several occasions the importance of developing more local specialty industries and achieving better development through innovation.

During an inspection tour to Ningxia in 2020, he also emphasized the need for unremitting efforts to push for high-quality development and to accelerate the transformation of economic growth.

Liang Yanshun, Party secretary of Ningxia, told a media briefing earlier this year in Yinchuan, the regional capital, that Ningxia has been following Xi's directives-prioritizing high-quality development.

Official data show that Ningxia's GDP rose by 5.3 percent year-on-year during the first half of this year, ranking first among provincial regions.

Over the past decade, the GDP of Ningxia, an inland and ethnic autonomous region, has grown at an average annual rate of 7.1 percent, while its per capita GDP has nearly doubled.

The goji berry trade, and the wine, dairy and tourism industries have gained national prominence, according to Liang.

Cultivating goji berries is another key industry in Ningxia. [Photo/China News Service]

Government efforts

Since wine started to be made in the eastern foothills of Helan Mountain in the 1980s, Ningxia has burgeoned into a major domestic winemaking region, accounting for some 37 percent of China's capacity in the industry.

The region's wine-grape growing areas cover more than 35,000 hectares, one-third of such areas nationwide.

Moreover, Ningxia's wines have won more than 1,000 prizes in international competitions, including gold medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards, the world's largest wine competition.

Zhou Mi, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation in Beijing, said, "Ningxia has distinctive geographic and climatic conditions that enable it to develop specialty agricultural industries as well as emerging industries such as new energy.

"Thanks to a series of policy measures rolled out over the years, the region's specialty industries have expanded alongside domestic and international value chains in relevant sectors, increasing people's incomes."

Zhang, the Ningxia winery owner, said policies in Ningxia have focused on establishing a firm footing for high-quality and sustainable development of specialty industries.

Workers sort grapes at a winery in Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia. [Photo/Xinhua]

Zuo Xinhui, another winery owner in Ningxia, said winemakers have seized the opportunities brought by environmental advantages and government support to develop viticulture and winemaking in the region.

"Good wines only come from high-quality grapes," she said, adding that thanks to abundant sunshine, little rainfall and semi-sandy soil, high-quality and stable grape crops are grown in Ningxia.

"To ensure quality, we transport freshly harvested grapes to the fermentation facility in less than three hours on average. We are very confident that high-quality wines from Ningxia will prove popular with consumers and become a flagship product in the global wine arena."

Purple business card

The aim is for the eastern foothills of Helan Mountain to become a production base for premier wines, and the authorities are looking to export more wines to overseas countries and regions, especially those taking part in the Belt and Road Initiative.

By 2035, this area is expected to have 100,000 hectares of vineyards with an annual production capacity of more than 600 million bottles of wine, a scale similar to that of Bordeaux in France, according to Huang Siming, director of the administrative committee.

Data from the committee show some 130 million bottles of wine were produced in Ningxia last year, with a total value of about 30 billion yuan.

The wines are also making their way to the international stage. The export value last year surged by more than 170 percent year-on-year to a record 5.8 million yuan ($840,000), despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Huang said, "The export potential is huge, as our wines are good, and we sell most of those produced in the region to the domestic market."

Wine containers are cleaned at a vineyard. [Photo/Xinhua]

Huang added that the wine industry has been hailed as a "purple business card" for Ningxia.

The region's wine-producing area is also home to China's first comprehensive experimental zone for developing and opening up the industry. The zone was officially established in May last year.

Zhou, from the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, said Ningxia's determination to develop specialty industries and upgrade economic growth modes has injected fresh impetus into opening-up and reform in the region, which in turn have created new growth drivers.

The region has hosted five sessions of the China-Arab States Expo and the first session of the China (Ningxia) International Wine Culture and Tourism Expo, while its international economic and trade connections now extend to 169 countries and regions.

Hao Xiangfeng, chairman of Ningxia Berylgoji, a leading goji berry plantation and processing brand, said his company has invested large sums on new product research and development, eying the huge market prospects.

"The government has firm resolve and concrete plans to boost high-quality development of specialty industries. With the soil, climate and other natural conditions in Ningxia, we are very confident of the development prospects," said Hao, who is also president of the Ningxia Goji Association.

The authorities in Ningxia have drawn up blueprints that include development plans and key objectives for specialty industries. Numerous policies have been rolled out in recent years to accelerate development of these industries and safeguard the growth of market entities.

Teams formed

Long-term working teams have also been formed in Ningxia, led by provincial-level officials, with participation from relevant government departments, to coordinate policy arrangements and resource allocations for the development of specialty industries.6.jpeg
Tourists visit a vineyard in the eastern foothills of Helan Mountain. [Photo/Xinhua]

Hao said Ningxia's goji berries account for 55 percent of the national output, and the region's goji berry plantation area is expected to double by 2025 to about 46,600 hectares.

Output of the fruit will reach 700,000 metric tons by that year. About 40 percent of the fresh fruit output will undergo value-added processing, taking the comprehensive output value of the goji berry industry to more than 50 billion yuan.

In addition to its goji berries and wine, Ningxia's dairy products and the culture and tourism sectors have all earned high reputations at home and abroad.

Ningxia boasts 700,000 dairy cattle, 2.04 million beef cattle and 13 million Tan sheep.

The region's new energy capacity has expanded at an average annual growth rate of 40 percent, reaching 28.39 million kilowatts by the end of last year, ranking eighth nationally in terms of size, official data show.

Zhang, the winery owner, said, "Here in Ningxia, we have distinctive geographic conditions, enabling policy measures, and an expanding market to develop our specialty industries.

"I don't see why we cannot succeed."