• France's news in English

Elite French wine-makers plant roots in China

AFP/The Local · 18 Oct 2013, 10:09

Published: 18 Oct 2013 10:09 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The world's fine winemakers have exacting standards for soil, climate and cultivation to produce the perfect grape. And they are looking to recreate that unlikely blend in China – better known for cheap mass production.

The potential harvest will be more drinkers in the world's most populous country, where wine consumption more than doubled in the four years to 2011 and is set to rise another 40 percent by 2016, according to the industry's top trade-fair organiser Vinexpo.

France's Domaines Barons de Rothschild (DBR), maker of the renowned Chateau Lafite reds, is planting roots in China with an initial 15 hectares (37 acres) in Penglai, a hilly green peninsula dotted with vineyards on the east coast of Shandong province with a century-long history of winemaking.

Its great rival, French luxury group LVMH – owner of Dom Perignon champagne among other brands – has 66 hectares for sparkling wine in the up-and-coming wine province of Ningxia in the north.

LVMH is also harvesting its first cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes from 30 hectares in the cool hills of southwestern Yunnan.

"It's a new El Dorado, it's a New World," says Jean-Guillaume Prats, who oversees the firm's wine division.

"No one knows really where and how vines should be grown. We have some ideas. People have tried. But nothing has been proved."

The three areas' winemaking reputations are just beginning to develop, with experts gaining confidence in Ningxia – whose products have won international tasting competitions – and seeing promising conditions in Yunnan, but worrying that Shandong's wetness could encourage disease.

Even so, bottled results could still take years, as winemakers experiment with the terroir – the soil, climate and other conditions that influence the grape – going so far as remaking the land to improve their odds.

China's first wine company began production in Shandong in 1892, but a tradition of high-quality vintages never took root.

DBR chose the province after scouting several sites and has spent years blasting through thick layers of rock and digging up earth to create the ideal soil depth, says vineyard director Olivier Richaud.

To counter the summer rain, leaves on each vine – most of them cabernet sauvignon, but six different varietals in all – are thinned to give the grapes more sunlight, and weeds have been planted between each row to absorb more water.

"Everything is completely different from what the company is used to in all the vineyards we have," says Richaud, standing amid rows of terraces overlooking green hills and a lake.

Story continues below…

"Until the end we won't really know what quality we should get."

For its part LVMH settled on Yunnan after a three-year search for elements such as good summer months, natural soil drainage and access to water.

The area resembles Bordeaux but at a higher altitude, says Prats, but it could be a decade before the firm makes something it is happy with, he adds.

French wine-makers like LVMH and DBR may also be reacting to this year's wine harvest in France, which was badly disrupted by a cold and rainy spring and severe storms.

AFP/The Local (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France to clear 'Jungle' migrant camp Monday
Migrants will be bussed from the camp to some 300 temporary accommodation centres around France. Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP

The "Jungle" migrant camp on France's northern coast will be cleared of its residents on Monday before being demolished, authorities said Friday.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available