YINCHUAN, May 13 (Xinhua) — Against a backdrop of classical music, two young women sip red wine and take selfies by a large window overlooking a seemingly boundless vineyard.
The scene is not taking place in Bordeaux, but in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which was once known for its vast desert.
“It is pretty relaxing here,” said Zhang Shu, holding a wine glass. She flew more than 2,000 kilometers from south China’s Guangdong Province to Ningxia with a friend, especially to taste what they deem the “best wine in China.”
“You can enjoy the wine here and be shown around in the winery — its cellars, the production line and so on,” she told Xinhua. “Staff here will teach you how to taste wine if you are a novice.”
A rising star on the global wine map, Ningxia boasts over 500,000 mu (33,333 hectares) of vineyards, almost a third of the nation’s total. Approximately 138 million bottles of wine are produced each year, with a combined output value of 34.3 billion yuan (about 5 billion U.S. dollars).
The foot of Helan Mountain, which was desert land three decades ago, is now covered in green and home to 116 wineries. Another 112 are currently under construction.
The Xige Winery, which Zhang and her friend visited, is one of the wineries located at the foot of the mountain. The duo tasted a variety of wines, including white, red, rose and sparkling wines.
Ma Yingnan, who is in charge of tourism at Xige, said the unique climate and soil conditions of Helan Mountain have endowed the wines with a special flavor, helping them win numerous awards at international wine competitions.
In 2021, the National Open Development Comprehensive Pilot Zone for the Grape and Wine Industry, the first zone of its kind, was established in Ningxia in a bid to transform the region into the Bordeaux of China.
The regional government has hosted a range of events to promote tourism, including a marathon and wine-themed music festivals. Two iterations of the China (Ningxia) International Wine Culture and Tourism Expo have also been held in the region to boost its international popularity.
Ma noted that hotel rooms at the Xige Winery are often fully booked between May and October, when they receive visitors from across China and around the world.
“Five to 10 percent of visitors are from overseas,” Ma said. “We are new to the wine industry, so many of them have said they were shocked to taste our wines and find them unexpectedly savory.”
Burgeoning wine tourism has also breathed new life into once impoverished villages, among which Haoyuan Village is a prime example.
Twenty years ago, the village was on barren land scarred with sand mine pits. With the support of the local government, the villagers began growing grapes, gradually turning the land into green vineyards and attracting 19 wineries.
More wineries meant more work opportunities, and jobs were soon available at vineyards and wineries, and locals also started earning money by running homestays or restaurants.
Haoyuan Village now welcomes about 500,000 visitors a year, raking in a total annual income of more than 5 million yuan. “The per capita disposable income in our village reached 19,800 yuan in 2021, of which about 60 percent was from wine tourism,” according to village official Ai Xiaobao.
Some 40 “wine buses” shuttle visitors around the area, allowing passengers to enjoy the scenery outside while tasting wines in their seats. They can also hop off to visit to the vineyards and wineries they pass.
Yuan Yuan is owner of the Yuanshi winery in Haoyuan Village. She said that even during the pandemic, the winery received as many as 350,000 visitors a year.
“At the worst time, when many outlets selling our wines were closed, tourism played a significant role in promoting sales,” she said. “About 70 to 80 percent of visitors bought our wines after being shown around.”
The winery built a stargazing campsite this year, and it expects to launch its homestay services soon. “We also plan to operate field trips, which will help visitors learn more about wine,” Yuan said.
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