Younger generation brings new spirit to wine region

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The cement road extends straight into the distance of rolling hills.At the other end, the city and the oasis fade away into a misty horizon.The road is flanked by endless vines. The end of September is among the busiest days in the wine region at the eastern foothills of the Helan Mountains in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

Workers hurry to pick grapes. Clusters of bluish violet grapes, sweet and succulent, half-dressed in dense, verdant leaves wait for workers to end the game of hide-and-seek.

The recent years have seen a boom in the wine industry in the area, where the gravel soil, ample sunlight, dry air and wide temperature differences between day and night favor the growth of grapes.

Meanwhile, more talent from the younger generation are entering the local wine industry to take up the challenge of competing with their foreign counterparts.

Winemaker Lu Xinjun, 36, is one of them.

Lu was born in Tonghua, in Northeast China’s Jilin province. His knowledge about wine was limited to thinking of it a sour or sweet grape-flavored alcoholic drink.

However, his horizons were widened after he enrolled at the wine college of the Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in Shaanxi province, in 2002, where he learned about wine – from growing grapes, making wine and marketing it.

After graduating in 2006, Lu started making wines at COFCO Wines & Spirits.

Then, two years ago, he moved his family to Yinchuan, in order to fulfill his dream to make wine that caters to Chinese taste.

Many of the wines popular in China now are better suited to Western cuisine, in which one kind of wine needs to match one or two dishes.

However, the Chinese have a number of dishes on the table all at once, often with several kinds of local cuisines coming together. Lu thinks Chinese need more easy-matching wines that are more balanced and soft.

To take his ideas forward, Lu, along with Chateau Tianfu GreatWall, has produced a red wine, blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Dornfelder, a kind of grape from Germany.

The wine has gained recognition through various tastings and awards in Berlin and London.

Li Zefu, managing director of Chateau Tianfu GreatWall, says the young people, usually with a professional background, are more innovative and capable of accepting new things.

“They tend to keep a closer watch on marketing trends and are sensitive of changes in consumer tastes,” says Li, adding that the average age of the around 20 winemakers in the chateau is younger than 35.

Zhao Shihua, a researcher with the grape industry development department of Ningxia, says that more than 20 overseas returnees with master’s degrees in wine-related professions have been brought to the area. Owners of local chateaus are also sending their children abroad to study the subject, Zhao adds.

Also, hundreds of college and vocational college students are majoring in wine-related professions in the region.

The younger generation of winemakers tend to pay more attention to improving their comprehensive abilities rather than focusing on technological processes. However, they still face risks.

“If the chateaus they work for are running badly, they cannot fulfill their potential,” says Li.

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