What comes to mind when picturing the world’s best wine-producing regions? Medieval castles perched, resplendent, on the banks of the Dordogne? Vibrant alleyways of grape-laden vines, flowing uninterrupted toward Argentina’s snowcapped peaks? Perhaps the sun-drenched hills of California’s Napa Valley? It probably isn’t Ningxia, or even China for that matter. But that might be about to change.
And why not? After all China is a civilization steeped in alcoholic tradition, with the first intoxicating drinks brewed near the banks of the Yellow River some 9,000 years ago. It is fitting, then, that some of the best emerging wines of the 21st century are irrigated by that very same waterway, sheltered by an isolated mountain range on the edge of the Gobi Desert.
A previously unheralded travel destination in China’s dust-swept north, 600 miles west of Beijing, Ningxia is desert country – a sparse, arid, underdeveloped land where mosques and markets serve a significant population of Hui muslims. Yet the emergence of wine is transforming Ningxia’s reputation, and Ningxia is leaving its own indelible mark on the industry in return.
We’ve curated a list of wineries at the vanguard of China’s viticultural revolution to help thirsty travelers discover The Best Wineries in Ningxia.
Nestled in the eastern foothills of the Helan mountains, this bold, multi-award winning winery was founded by China-born German businesswoman Wang Fang in 2011. Wang herself comes from good vinicultural stock. Her father was a pioneer of Chinese fine wines, and Kanaan’s libations draw heavily on its founder’s Sino-European past.
Chief among these is the Kanaan Riesling, considered by many as a triumph of Ningxia wine-making. Inspired by Wang’s decade in Germany, Kanaan has achieved a feat once considered impossible in the region. This brave approach to winemaking has earned her a considerable, and growing, reputation at home and abroad, as well as the zany sobriquet ’Crazy Fang’.
Chateau Yuanshi’s name means born of stone, and it is easy to see why. The winery’s fortress-esque facade is a local spin on the châteaux of Europe, and an homage to the region’s industrial past. Built from the stones left behind by mines and quarries that once littered the nearby Gobi Desert, this winery is a perfect metaphor for the reincarnation of the area as a whole.
Stone is central to owner Yuan Yuan’s journey. Her father, Yuan Hui, opened a quarry in the region during the 1980s, only to become disillusioned with its environmental impact, turning his focus instead to fine wine. The Chateau was born in 2008 and quickly became one of the earliest developers of wine tourism in the area. Industry experts Decanter consider Soul of Mountain, a structured and concentrated cabernet sauvignon, their best offering.
Built in the early days of the Ningxia wine boom, Domaine Pushang is run by a young husband and wife team. A small winery with a big reputation, Domaine Pushang is best known for producing marselan, a hybrid of grenache and cabernet sauvignon grapes engineered by French scientists in the 1960s.
The team were the first to recognize this grape’s potential in Ningxia’s unique terroir, planting their vines back in 2009 before other local producers had caught on. The wine’s deep purple color, with hints of sweet vanilla and ripe berries, has seen it ranked in the top ten Chinese wines of the year and heralded by renowned critics Jesse Robinson, Bernard Burch and Ian D’Agata.
According to The New York Times, Silver Height’s owner Emma Gao put Ningxia on the map. This bona-fide star of China’s wine scene studied wine-making in France before teaming up with her father, Gao Lin, and husband, Thierry Courtade, to produce some of the country’s best vintages. The team’s skills are so well-regarded that two bottles of Silver Height’s wine were served to Angela Merkel at a Chinese state dinner in 2016.
The winery covers two sites, with visits to both possible via prior arrangement. The Farm is a small family plot in the north of Ningxia’s capital, Yinchuan, where the Gao’s first grew the grapes that would one day propel them to success. The Mountain property is a larger vineyard to the north of the city, set alongside the austere Helan range.
The spectacular Xige Estate is a big winery with a vision to match. The mind-bending architecture of the compound – a blend of modernist curves and traditional Chinese concepts – rises from the desert like the set of a sci-fi movie. Technology is, after all, central to the Xige project, with screens in the winery displaying real-time data on everything from soil chemistry to grape growth.
Xige Estate may be the youngest winery on this list, but by purchasing some of the oldest vineyards in the country – planted over 20 years ago by the Chinese government – they are making up for lost time. As well as world-class wine-making facilities, the estate houses a tasting center for visitors, an organic restaurant and the Jade Dove Hotel – a high-end boutique with a quirky vineyard theme.
Journey to Ningxia This Summer
In partnership with UnTour Food Tours, travel with us to the capital Yinchuan, as we explore the exquisite wineries at the vanguard of China’s viticultural revolution.