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Spain's first ever Chinese-owned vineyard uncorks Spain-China cultural flow

newseu.cgtn.com by Ken Browne27/12/2023  

A soft morning sun floods the valley in Spain's famous Ribera del Duero wine country, gently lighting vibrant vines where purple grapes hang copiously, seductively, bursting with fresh natural flavor.

The harvest is in full swing at the Xu family lands and bodegas, the only Chinese family in Spain to own a vineyard and make their own wines under the Alilian brand.

The Xu family are reaping the rewards of a bold move to buy their own vineyard 10 years ago.

"We have some vines here that are over 150 years old," Xu Shuping tells CGTN. "They make the best wine."

Xu went from falling in love with Spanish wine to exporting it to China and eventually put down roots in the famous Ribera del Duero region. 

But getting into the wine business was far from a sure bet.

 'A very difficult journey'

"This journey began around 20 years ago," Xu says, "At the time, it's fair to say that we couldn't tell the difference between a good and a bad wine.

"To get to where we are now has been a very difficult journey but we are still working hard, studying hard, and learning every day."

The idea was to create award-winning wine of the highest quality, carefully selecting the land, the vineyard, and the machinery for the winemaking space.

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The Xu family sort grapes picked earlier that day as the winemaking process begins. /CGTN

A long journey that ranged from the famed la Rioja in the north to Andalucia in the south, through Galicia and Rias-Baixas regions where world-renowned white wines like Albarino and Godello come from through Castilla-Leon and Navarra to the Ebro and Duero river valleys.

It has been a journey of discovery where the family finally settled in the Ribera del Duero region for its terroir - a flat rocky terrain, its microclimate nestled in a subtly undulating valley protected from cold northerly winds, and a native grape that lends itself to complex red wines rich with brooding flavors of dark fruits and bright minerals and acids.

It's no coincidence that red wine is more popular in this area, and the wine is also preferred by the Chinese market. 

But in most Spanish restaurants the choice is simple: Rioja or Ribera.

Xu made his decision 10 years ago and set out to create top quality Spanish wines. Now his son is following in his footsteps.

Julian Xu speaks fluent Spanish and has a Masters degree in viticulture and enology, the next generation of the budding Xu family wine dynasty.

Respecting the land and local traditions, they have enlisted expert wine grower Javier Balbas - the fourth generation of his family to grow these highly valued grapes.

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The grape harvest is in full flow at the Xu family vineyard where Alilian wine is made. /CGTN

Passion, vision, and dedication have made the Xu family wines a success.

Their award-winning Alilian brand is sold in Michelin-star restaurants across Europe, while European wine culture has also recently become a Chinese fascination.

China's growing wine culture

For Julian the future is clear - the future is China.

Sales of Spanish wine outside the country are increasing by around 10 percent a year according to the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX), with China among the fastest-growing markets.

"Spanish wine is better value for money than other European wines like French or Italian, so it's becoming better known in China," Julian explains.

"You get more for your money and that means more Chinese investment in production, bodegas, and quality wines here."

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Julian Xu checks the grapes during the 2023 harvest. /CGTN

Julian says that a lot of young Spanish wines are sold cheaply outside Spain, but its reputation for prestige and quality wines is now growing worldwide - a trend the family is keen to continue. 

"China is really catching up," continues Julian. "There are many wine experts, sommeliers, and tasters who understand and appreciate the quality of our wine, so we're beginning to focus a lot more on the Chinese market."

Julian says Alilian will soon sell 50 percent of their production to China, their success story is a reflection of Spain's improving international wine exports. 

Blending the best of both worlds

Some estimates put China's burgeoning middle class at around 300 million people and their thirst for high-end European products such as olive oil, Iberian ham and fine wine is on the rise too. 

It's a market that is set to double by 2030.

These are signs which bode well for the Xu family, for whom a love of Spanish wine has matured into a family business that they dream of passing down future generations.

Julian tells of long nights at the pulping machines, the sometimes endless work that goes into great wines - the timings, the harvest, the temperatures, the risks.

T?heir business is testament to how the Chinese work ethic and timeless Spanish knowledge of the land and the grapes mix well.

"This is for the future, for the family," Xu senior says, as he pours out an unforgettable rose at the lunch table. 

It's a bottle that the family doesn't even need to commercialize, a small-production gem high in demand from restaurateurs and friends.

The CGTN team is brought to the outdoor lunch table where Spanish roasted lamb, sardines, and a soup made with vegetables grown in the garden meters away could easily be the subject of a Spanish still life painting.

Fresh Chinese dumplings are also on the table, at ease amongst the Spanish dishes - Spanish and Chinese culture flowing together effortlessly. 

The talk is of building a restaurant in this outdoor space at the heart of the Ribera del Duero, wine-tasting, enotourism and a new hotel to provide exciting experiences for wine lovers who can get up, close and personal with the entire process.

For trailblazers like the Xu family, blending the best of both worlds points to a fruitful future.