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Wine industry brings green landscape, prosperity to China's once-barren soil

Xinhua by Xinhua18/03/2024  

This aerial photo taken on June 8, 2023 shows wineries and wine grape planting bases at the foot of Helan Mountain in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Wang Peng)

At Yuanshi Vineyard, which is located at the eastern foot of Helan Mountain in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, stones from the Gobi Desert have been paved into buildings and roads, and wires and grape vines have been repurposed as construction materials.

"It's hard to imagine that the winery used to be a mine scattered with gravel and covered in dust," said Yuan Hui, founder of Yuanshi Vineyard.

In 2008, Yuan invested in a 400-hectare abandoned sand mine. He began growing grapes and undertook ecological restoration work with the support of the local government. In 2014, the winery opened to the public.

"Along with improved ecological conditions, wine and tourism have attracted a large number of tourists to visit and learn tasting techniques. Products from our winery also sell well," Yuan said.

The wine industry has helped turn the once-barren land near Helan Mountain into a 195-km-long green belt of grape vines. According to the management committee of a wine industrial park at the eastern foot of Helan Mountain, at a grape production base for wine-making, grapes were planted on barren land with the application of water-saving irrigation technology, forming a 20,000-hectare oasis of grape vines and nearly 4,000 hectares of shelterbelts.

The area's dry land, appropriate soil conditions and sufficient levels of sunshine have aided in the development of the local wine industry, enabling grape vine roots to absorb as much water and minerals from the soil as possible, according to Zhao Shihua, director of a wine-industry technology collaborative innovation center near Helan Mountain.

"As a result, grapes grown in the region have a good aroma and good pigment, and they reach appropriate sugar and acidity levels," Zhao said.

People taste wine during a wine-themed international conference and an expo in Yinchuan, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, June 9, 2023. (Xinhua/Wang Peng)

The vineyards in the area are located at a latitude of 38 degrees north -- the same latitude as key wine-producing areas in Spain, Italy and the United States. And these vineyards have gained an international reputation. Local wines are sold to countries such as Canada, Switzerland and Britain, and their quality has been recognized by Jancis Robinson, one of the world's top sommeliers.

"In the 1980s, when we sold our indigenously produced wine for the first time, we couldn't find a bottle opener on the market. Now, wine has grown into a large industry," said Yu Huiming, one the earliest wine-makers in Ningxia.

Ningxia's booming wine industry has brought about economic development in the landlocked region, as well as plenty of job opportunities for locals. Across the region, the industry provides about 130,000 jobs for locals every year.

Vineyards require a significant amount of labor for nearly eight months every year, including labor to clean buried grape vines, nurture the plants and bury them in the winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.

Local grape grower Ma Shoujian is particularly busy during the summer, when the grapes ripen. In addition to his work in the vineyards, he also arranges accommodation for the many migrant workers who travel to the eastern foot of Helan Mountain to work.

"In recent years, many vineyards have been built in the surrounding areas and it is easy to find a job here," he said. With several years of experience, he has been promoted to manage a large vineyard area.

"There is no difficulty earning 10,000 yuan (about 1,409 U.S. dollars) a month. I even bought a car for my family last year," he said.