Is China ready for wine tourism?

China is still an up-and-coming wine producing and consuming country. Now, a wine culture driven by tourism is starting to grow. Many wineries have refurbished their facilities, making everything as tourist-friendly as possible and local authorities are also spending a fortune building wine culture centers, targeting tourists from all over the world.

 

Wine tourism really started to take off in China three years ago, but it needs more than just good wine to succeed. As China’s wine culture is fairly young, domestic producers lack the long-standing history that many European winemakers boast. Also, Chinese wine tourists differ in their knowledge and understanding of wine. To cater for this, the large domestic wineries are customizing their tour packages, providing different levels of information for different types of tourists. For example, novices would first be introduced to the history of winemaking, while wine experts and connoisseurs are immediately fast-tracked to an introduction of grape varieties. Tourists will find wine clubs where they can not only blend their own wine, but actually pick and crush their own grapes before fermenting their own wines, learning about the culture and history of China, visiting wine cellars and, of course, tasting the wines.  Meanwhile, for families looking for something to do at the weekend, there are day trips where grandparents can play mahjong under a beautiful trellis and kids can pick grapes, run around, and at one wine château, they can even play the drums or a game of football in the wine bar. In other words, wine tourism in China has a wide-ranging appeal, with something for everyone, and an ideal place for wine lovers to spend their time.

 

Wine tourism, Changyu style

 

With more than six tourism-focused ‘châteaux’ in six different regions, China’s oldest and largest wine producer, Changyu Pioneer Wine Co., Ltd, has become the most popular tourist spot with over 60,000 visitors and an income of 7 million of rmb from tourism in 2012.  Visitors to châteaux can tour vineyards and visit the cellars and workshops; they can participate in picking grapes during harvest season and make wines themselves as well as taste the wines, visit the wine museum, buy grape-based cosmetics and create their own customized wine label.

 

Established in 1992, the Changyu Wine Culture Museum is one of the few specialized wine museums in the world.  It covers an area of 10,000 m2, and comprises a wine culture square, a general hall, a history hall, a modern hall, a calligraphy hall, a collection hall, a shopping center and a century-old underground cellar. The underground cellar, which covers an area of 2,600 m2 and is 7 meters in depth, contains three ‘king barrels’, each with a capacity of 15 tons - they are the largest wine barrels in Asia with a history spanning over 100 years.

 

One of Changyu’s châteaux, Château Changyu Afip Global has now become a National 4A Level Scenic Spot in China. The château, located in the Miyun area, a suburb of Beijing, is formed primarily of a reception center (wines and entrance tickets), several vineyards, Afip Village (European-style individual hotel spaces or ‘houses’), Afip Castle (museum, cellar) and a beautiful lake. Afip Village is a small European-style hotel compound, which has various rooms including standards, singles, suites and apartments. All rooms are typical of European décor and come equipped with European furniture, lamps and artwork.

 

“The beauty of the château is breathtaking, the vineyards and park offer plenty of recreational value. As a result, on sunny, warm days you will see couples having their wedding pictures taken here. The guided tour is also an attraction: 2 movie theaters give insight into the château and winemaking, the museum is interactive and offers visitors the chance to embark on a steep learning curve on wine,” said Austrian entrepreneur Lenz M. Moser, talking about Château Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia, the latest of six castles that Changyu has built around China to draw the Chinese middle classes who have begun to enjoy Western-style vacations. Mr. Moser headed to China more than a decade ago - as honorary winemaker at Changyu he has had the chance to visit the country several times over the past few years and to see what is going on in the Chinese wine industry, especially in Ningxia. “Even if Changyu is already doing a great job”, Mr. Moser explained, “wine tourism in China is still underdeveloped and needs to be improved. People must also get a proper tasting experience and not just see the buildings, cellars, etc. But just like everything else, this will happen overnight, due to China’s impressive ability to learn quickly. Wine tourism will develop just because consumers’ thirst for knowledge in China is enormous. Take the Napa Valley 40 years ago and compare it with now, then extrapolate to 10 years on in Ningxia and you can see what is going to happen: a fully developed entertainment industry will welcome thousands of tourists every day in Ningxia alone,” Mr. Moser predicted.

 

The ‘International Wine City’ project 

 

In 2012, Changyu announced they would establish a new 413-hectare International Wine City, requiring an estimated investment of 6 billion yuan (€720 million) near their headquarters in Yantai, Shandong. The project will be home to a national wine research institute and wine production center. It will also include grape planting areas, an international wine trading center, a European-style village, and two high-end châteaux. The wine production center will cover an area of 220,000 square meters, making it one of the world’s largest wine and brandy production plants. The city – a combination of research, winemaking and tourism – is expected to be completed by 2016.  So far, it has become a fantastic scenic tourist spot themed around Chinese wine, and awaits wine enthusiasts from home and abroad to come and experience Oriental wine culture.

 

Enjoying golf in the Nava Valley

 

Chateau Junding, located to the southeast of Penglai, is only four miles from the sea in the countryside of the Nava Valley, in Shandong province. The chateau’s 8,000-square-meter underground bodega is the largest in Asia and well worth visiting as it is a fascinating spot for sightseeing. Visitors can get involved in sharing wine culture at all levels by taking part in grape picking, crushing, fermenting, storing and bottling, right the way through to the pleasure of tasting. Here, guests can stay in a 92-room hotel, eat at the Chinese and Western style restaurant, play karaoke, stay at the coffee shop or enjoy the outdoor swimming pool during summer. They can also play a round of golf on the beautifully manicured 18-hole course, the only course in China situated close to a vineyard.

 

Jade Valley: the beauty of modern Chinese architecture

 

Situated 35km east of the ancient capital city, Xi’an, Jade Valley Wine & Resort nestles in a valley of the Qinlin Mountain range, surrounded by original rural villages, vast fields of wheat, lush trees, and fresh air. Of all the chateaus, cellars and wineries in China, Jade Valley Winery, the latest project by world-renowned Chinese architect Qingyun Ma, stands out for its creativity and uniqueness: combining modern wine technology and vineyards, it makes full use of the local landscape and customs, despite its relatively small size. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the winery, the vineyard and tranquil surrounding area, admire interesting architecture including Stone House, the hilltop Wine Dorm (a converted office building turned into a luxury hotel) and Well Hall. Of course, they can also taste some of Jade Valley’s finest wines combined with tasty local dishes and snacks and attend fascinating performances such as shadow play from the Shaanxi opera.