Wine industry raises the spirits of northeastern city

Updated 2017-05-07 11:30:14 Xinhua

In a few months, Huiyuanlongyun Chateau, a huge leisure park, with wine as the theme in northeast China, will throw open its cellar doors to the public.

At a cost of more than 400 million yuan (58 million U.S. dollars), the 13-hectare complex in Tonghua City, Jilin Province, will be an area for grape plantation, wine-making, eating, drinking, sightseeing and having fun.

"People tend to think that such chateaus only exist in France, but as demand grows, domestic chateaus are also growing," said Liu Shuhang, in charge of the wine industry in Tonghua.

In Tonghua, the best wine-making area in northeast China, similar complexes have sprung up in the last few years. There are now about 20 of them in the city.

Tonghua is located between 40 degrees to 43 degrees north, a similar latitude to some of the best wine-making regions in Italy and Spain, making it one of the best places for viticulture in China. The city has around 3,500 hectares of vineyards, producing almost 60,000 tonnes of grapes each year. There are now close to 70 wineries there, with over 100 production lines, but the wine industry in China has huge room for growth. The country currently has close to 500,000 hectares of vineyards, with only about 100,000 devoted to wine-making.

China was the world's fifth biggest consumer of wine in 2015, but it is also the most populous country in the world. In the United States, for example, annual wine consumption is around 11 liters per capita. That's about ten times more than the average Chinese, according to the Wine Institute, based in California.

In March, the wine and spirit exhibition VINEXPO, released some projections which put China as the world's second biggest wine market by 2020, when sales in the country are expected to reach 21 billion U.S. dollars.

In places like Tonghua, visitors can not only drink wine, but also have fun picking grapes and joining in parts of the production process.

"Chateaus are not just a place to taste wine and enjoy the scenery," said Liu. "They are learning centers where visitors come to a better understanding of wine culture."

Liang Zhengkui, a chateau owner in Tonghua, sees building such complexes as a way to expand the wine industry.

"We allow the tourists to feel the wine culture by having a great experience in the chateaus," he said.

Such idea has become common among those engaged in the wine industry in northeast China.

Wang Jun, a Tonghua vintner, believes that the wine industry will not be just about wine itself, but about spin-offs.

"We incorporate wine and tourism by inviting the consumers to the chateaus," Wang said. "For them, drinking wine becomes a wonderful cultural experience."

"Compared to Bordeaux, the number of Chinese 'chateaus' is quite limited at the moment, but I am sure that they have a bright future," said Liu. "We have a unique Chinese culture, and I believe it will attract more and more domestic and foreign oenophiles."

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