China, a fast-growing wine market, plans to turn a northern region on the edge of the Gobi desert into a center of top quality wine production to compete with international brands and boost the local economy.
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The Ningxia region has had a wine industry on the eastern foothills of the Helan Mountains since the early 1980s. The area, lying at a similar latitude to the Bordeaux region in France, has more than 200 vineyards with annual production of 130 million bottles, or a quarter of the country’s output, Zhao Yongqing, a vice governor of the region, told a press conference in Beijing.
But local brands have been unable to keep up with the changing tastes of domestic consumers and their desire for different types and qualities of wine. Sales of domestic wines have been losing out to overseas brands, which have increased their market share over the past five years, Li Tangbing, an official with Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, told the conference.
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China will open a pilot zone in the region to attract foreign and domestic investors to establish production, research and training facilities, Li said. These will apply international standards to everything from soil conditions to grape cultivation and fermentation, in order to upgrade production and boost demand.
The country also plans to triple the grape-growing area in the region and work toward a production value of more than 200 billion yuan ($31.3 billion), so that by 2035 the region will become “globally influential” in the international wine industry, said Sui Pengfei, an official from the agriculture ministry. The move will also support local grape-growing farmers, he said.
Wine may be considered principally a western beverage but the Chinese are drinking and producing it in increasing quantities, with bottles from France, Italy, Argentina and Chile seen regularly on supermarket shelves. The nation is the world’s sixth-largest consumer and guzzles 1.24 billion liters a year, but per capita consumption is only about a quarter of the world average, Sui said. “There is a huge potential market,” Sui said.
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