Cou­ple’s vine­yard takes root in China’s Bordeaux

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA in Yinchuan

In his vine­yard along the foothills of the He­lan-Moun­tains, French­man Thierry Cour­tade is mov­ing equip­ment with a fork­lift.

In about one month, the grapes in North­west China’s Ningxia Hui au­ton­o­mous re­gion will be made into wine. Thierry is busy tak­ing care of the plants, pre­vent­ing pes­ti­cides and dis­eases.

“It’s his daily rou­tine,” said Gao Yuan, Cour­tade’s wife. “Al­though he is the boss, he lives in the vine­yard through­out the year and over­sees ev­ery­thing from the soil to plant­ing and the har­vest­ing.”

The Sil­ver Heights vine­yard is one of many winer­ies en­joy­ing suc­cess thanks to the fer­tile soils around Mount He­lan, of­ten re­ferred to as China’s Bordeaux.

By the end of last year, about 40,000 hectares of grapes were be­ing grown in Ningxia, with the ma­jor­ity of the crops to be made into wine, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics re­leased at the China-US Tourism Lead­er­ship Summit held re­cently in Yinchuan, the re­gional cap­i­tal.

This makes the area the largest grape-grow­ing re­gion in China. There are about 85 winer­ies in Ningxia, which pro­duce about 100 mil­lion bot­tles of wine an­nu­ally, and there are 99 winer­ies un­der con­struc­tion.

Thanks to the cou­ple’s hard work, Sil­ver Heights branded wines have won sev­eral awards. From 2011 to 2013, one of their wines was named the “Best Wine in China” by the China Wine Com­pe­ti­tion. In 2012, two of their brands won the gold and sil­ver prizes in the French wine and Chi­nese wine cat­e­gories.

How­ever, the cou­ple’s story is not one of overnight suc­cess. In 2000, Ningxia’s wine in­dus­try was start­ing to take off, with the gov­ern­ment set­ting plans in mo­tion to send young pro­fes­sion­als to study over­seas and help the lo­cal wine in­dus­try.

Gao Yuan’s fa­ther saw an op­por­tu­nity and sent his daugh­ter to a French vo­ca­tional school for 10 months to learn about wine­mak­ing.

“My fa­ther said that af­ter I re­turned, we would make the best wine in Ningxia,” Gao said.

De­spite the lan­guage bar­rier, Gao ex­celled dur­ing the 10 months and was ac­cepted on to a more ad­vanced course in Bordeaux. Dur­ing this time, as an in­tern at Chateau Calon Se­gur, Gao met her fu­ture hus­band.

In 2007, Gao left Cour­tade and their daugh­ter to re­turn to Mount He­lan, where she and her fa­ther es­tab­lished Sil­ver Heights.

The foothills of Mount He­lan are a per­fect lo­ca­tion for grow­ing grapes. The soil is full of min­er­als and the area has about 3,000 hours of sun­shine each year, with an­nual rain­fall of less than 200 mm. Lo­cated just 1,100 me­ters above sea level, it is easy to use the Yel­low River for ir­ri­ga­tion.

At 40 de­grees north, the vine­yard is lo­cated at the same lat­i­tude as the Bordeaux wine re­gion.

With fa­vor­able weather, hard work and gov­ern­ment sup­port, Gao’s win­ery soon be­came one of the most suc­cess­ful in the re­gion.

In 2008, its wines were given top scores by Jan­cis Robin­son, one of the three top wine testers in the world. In 2012, Cour­tade joined his wife in Moun t He­lan.

“He uses pro­cesses de­vel­oped by his own fam­ily,” Gao said. “All our fine wine is made with­out chem­i­cal or phys­i­cal fil­tra­tion.”

Cour­tade said he is very happy to work in Ningxia, not only be­cause he is with his fam­ily, but be­cause he en­joys his work.

“I have high hopes for the wine in­dus­try here,” he said.

The lo­cal gov­ern­ment is of­fer­ing sup­port for en­trepreneurs such as Cour­tade and Gao, with the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive draw­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of con­sumers to Ningxia.

The re­gional gov­ern­ment plans to ex­tend the re­gion’s grape-grow­ing area to about 47,000 hectares by 2020, pro­duc­ing about 200 mil­lion bot­tles of wine a year.

“I hope to stay here for a long time and make the best wine in the world,” Cour­tade said.

PHOTOS BY PENG ZHAOZHI / XIN­HUA

Work­ers pick grapes at a vine­yard on Mount He­lan in the Ningxia Hui au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

An agri­cul­ture ex­pert (left) checks grapes at a farm in Wuzhong city, the Ningxia Hui au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

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