Whilst China appears to have come late to the wine-producing party, the history of grape wine in China dates back many thousands of years. The earliest records come from the Han Dynasty around 200 BCE and although grape wine was replaced by drinks made from rice and other fruits for a while, by the later part of the first millennium, during the Tang Dynasty, it was back in favour again.
Situated about 800 miles west of Beijing, in central-western China, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert and close to the upper reaches of the Yellow River, Ningxia is China’s youngest and most exciting wine-growing region. Here, the climate is very dry and the vines are bathed in sun-light for around 3,000 hours each season; about 1,000 hours more than is experienced by regions such as Bordeaux with a maritime climate. Some of the best vineyards are planted in the Helan Mountain region at around 1,100 metres above sea level; the dry conditions here result in hot daytime temperatures being off-set by cold nights, extending the ripening season. In the winter, it gets so cold that to protect the vines they are almost completely buried, being unearthed again in the spring.
By modern-day standards, Changyu has a long history, the roots of the company being established in 1892 by Zhang Bishi, an overseas Chinese diplomat. He named his pioneering winery in Yantai, Zhang Yu and imported about half a million vines from the US and Europe, paving the way for a new era of wine production in China. Today, Changyu operates a number of estates and wineries throughout China as well as an International Wine Research and Development Centre.
A graduate of Enology, Fan Xi took his studies on further to become a doctor, publishing about twenty papers on subjects including fermentation and ageing wine. He has worked for Changyu since 1999 and alongside being engaged in a number of roles, has travelled and worked in Chile and Europe developing both his experience and skills. Currently Fan Xi is responsible for grape cultivation and winemaking in the Ningxia region.