In the last decade alone China has established 100 new wineries and Nick is looking forward to trying some Chinese Wine at Vinexpo ! A couple of years ago a restaurant near us started to stock Chinese wine and we became intrigued. The wine in question was Dragon Seal. The vineyard lies in the Hebei Province of Beijing and was established in 1987.
Dragon Seal wine first came into being from French vines imported from the Rhone Valley and planted in China. It's common in China to make wines from western grapes (if you would like to learn more about the native Chinese grapes check out Nick's Blog). However Dragon Seal uses a small proportion of native grapes in its red blends known as Dragon's Eye. The first bottle was launched in 1988, the Chinese Year of the Dragon. A French winemaker supports a French-trained Chinese team to help cultivate the grapes and advise on the best produce to use.
Most of central and southern Hebei lies within the North China Plain and its provincial capital is Shijiazhuang. Hebei borders the Bohai Sea on the east. The western part of Hebei rises into the Taihang Mountains while the Yan Mountains run through northern Hebei, beyond which lie the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. The Great Wall of China cuts through northern Hebei from east to west.
Dragon Seal wine can trace its roots back to 1910 when a French friar converted the Heishanhu Church's graveyard into a wine cave at Fuwai of Beijing. He hired a French oenologist to produce both red and white wines for the mass and daily drinking. In 1946, the Church officially registered the winery, named it "La Shangyi Cave de Pékin (Shangyi Winery of Beijing)" and began to sell its products in domestic market. Over the years the winery was acquired by the state and later evolved into Beijing Dragon Seal Winery.
Great Wall Wine also comes from Hebei and is one of the most well known wine brands in domestic market. It was served to Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao at the visiting American's state dinner. The China Great Wall Wine Company is literally located at the foot of the Great Wall of China, with vineyards housing more than ten varieties of wine grapes. The company was established in 1983 and it's wines are currently being exported to 20 countries and regions around the world including Europe and Japan.
Dynasty Wine is a Sino-French joint venture established in 1980. The Joint-Venture was created by the Chinese government, in association with the French brandy producer, Remy-Martin, and Hong Kong International Trade and Technology Investigation Organization. While the winery is located in the city of Tianjin, the grapes are sourced from several vineyards in Tianjin, Ningxia, Hebei, Shandong and Xinjiang to ensure that the company’s supply of grapes is not affected by adverse environmental factors or weather conditions.
Noble Dragon Shandong is made by Changyu Pioneer Wine and is available in the UK. It is China’s oldest vineyard and winery. In fact, Changyu has the oldest cellars in Asia and has been called the “Oriental Bordeaux”. Changyu Winery was established in 1892 with vine cuttings from the Bordeaux region of France. In the l990’s, Changyu entered into a joint venture with The Castel Group, the largest grower and distributor of wine in France and the second largest beverage distributor in the world. Together they established the seaside Beiyujia Vineyard, which produces their Sino-French premium wines under the Chateau Changyu-Castel label.
Interestingly they make a wine from Cabernet Gernischt - a rare grape varietal that once grew in France during the 19th century. It is now extinct in France and Europe. Today Cabernet Gernischt is only found at the Beiyujia Vineyard, located in Shandong Province, China.
Changyu's vineyards in the Shandong province are on the same latitude as Bordeaux and have a similarly cool climate. Yantai, the city where Changyu Winery is based is said to be the birthplace of China’s modern wine industry. It’s located on the southern coast of the Bohai Sea and the name Yantai means “smoke tower”. It comes from the watchtowers constructed on Mount Qi in 1398 which served to raise the alarm against Japanese pirates.