In high spirits

In Discussion on Tea and Wine, an article written by literati Wang Fu during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and discovered in 1900 in the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu province, an imaginary debate between tea and wine, each trying to stress its importance over the other, is depicted vividly.
Despite the amusing contrast, tea and wine actually have a lot in common. They both come from plants, and people care about the regions where they are produced. They are viewed as not only drinks but also a way of life.
The Dunhuang article shows Chinese people have a history of drinking wine, viewing it as important as, if not more so, than tea.
China is known globally for its tea, but now the country is also seeking to build its reputation as a major producer of wine, especially from the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, which "has the conditions to become a world-famous wine region", according to Zhang Xu, vice-minister of culture and tourism.
As a rising star of the new world wine regions, those outside the traditional wine-producing areas of Europe and the Middle East, Ningxia has produced wines that have won nearly 1,000 prizes in international competitions, including six gold medals at the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards, the world's largest wine competition, according to Zhao Yongqing, executive vice-chairman of the Ningxia regional government.
With abundant sunshine, little rainfall and a semi-sandy soil, Ningxia has favorable conditions for growing grapes. It started to make wine in the 1980s, and now has an area of 37,000 hectares where grapes are planted, accounting for a quarter of China's capacity. The more than 200 wineries in the region can produce 130 million bottles of wine every year, according to Zhao.
Ningxia's wine industry is growing, especially in the eastern foothills of Helan Mountain, where the first China (Ningxia) International Wine Culture and Tourism Expo was held recently.
Hao Linhai, former vice-chairman of the Ningxia regional government, who is a pioneer in developing the industry, says he rea

"When I was young, my grandmother told me, 'life is full of disappointments, hardly any of which we can confide in others'. When I grew up, I realized we are trying to strike a balance between trying to get what we want and trying to accept what goes against our will. So ruyi is not just a good wish, but also a high standard," explains Ding, who tries to render the idea through her wine.
Among those trying to showcase local culture on their wine bottles is Zheng Zichao, owner of Woerfeng Estate, where visitors can get a clear view of Helan Mountain. He put part of the mountain, which seems like the head of a supine Buddha, as a design on the bottle.
Jade Vineyard is also taking the lead in combining music with wine. That attracted Yao Mengshi, 30, to volunteer at the vineyard in September when the grape-picking season began.
"Walking down a spiral staircase in a well-designed white building, there is a cellar where rows of oak barrels of wine are stored. A cellar concert often starts when visitors arrive, and music runs through the cellar along with flowing blue light. The atmosphere is really appealing. On the rooftop lounge, visitors can get a bird's-eye view of the whole vineyard while tasting the wine," says Yao.

She had an "immersive experience" when she and seven other volunteers picked grapes and squeezed out the juice to make wine.
Before she visited Ningxia's wineries this year, she often drank wine produced in France, Italy and the United States. Now, she is supportive of the wine produced in Ningxia.
"I feel proud that we can make wine of such high quality in our own region now. I'm willing to support its development, and I will lead more friends to pay attention to the wines from Ningxia in the future," says Yao.
For Gao Yuan, owner of Silver Heights winery in Ningxia, the bio-dynamic method she follows is related to traditional wisdom.
"Different from the modern industrialized agriculture, in which people calculate the minerals in a piece of land by computer and apply the proper dosage of fertilizers based on the calculation, we grow grapes in a natural way. By observing the moon and following a planting calendar that depends on astrology, we use compost as fertilizer and avoid most pesticides," she says.

"In some way it is similar to the habit ancient Chinese people had of doing things after checking Tung Shing, a Chinese divination guide and almanac, and some ideas echo in I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text. I hope this will lead other local wineries to follow our example and apply this environmentally friendly method."
Chinese people have a history of drinking wine. It is said envoy Zhang Qian of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) brought wine back to China following his expedition westward on the orders of Emperor Liu Che.
Chinese people, however, have their own wine-drinking habit. Yu Huiming, vice-president of Xixia King Winery in Ningxia, says: "Chinese people prefer to drink together with others. They don't often drink by themselves at home like their Western counterparts."
Ningxia is actively exploring wine tourism. It announced 10 tourism routes, centering on the wineries in the foothills of Helan Mountain, during the recent expo. The routes also combine traditional tourist sites such as Zhenbeipu Western Film Studio and the rock art of Helan Mountain.
Zheng says staff members at his winery take visitors to see the general process of making wine, show them around the cellar and provide tastings.
"When building the winery, we had already planned to open it to the public and receive visitors. So we used red bricks to build the underground cellar so that it makes guests feel warm," says Zheng.
He adds that a wine town, combining wine-related entertainment and accommodation, will be built not far from his winery in the near future.
Liz Thach, a US-based wine expert who has been to Ningxia twice, says: "I must admit I am a big fan of Ningxia's cuisine and wine, and the growth of Ningxia's wineries has been phenomenal since I visited in 2012.
"Ningxia has done incredible things in wine tourism, combining architecture and cuisine. I think it has succeeded in its goal to attract Chinese tourists. The next goal is to promote wine tourism for people from around the world."

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