Wine from the Gobi desert aims at booming market

Mon May 28, 2012 9:17pm EDT
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By Maxim Duncan

WUHAI, China (Reuters) - As spring warms the sands of the Gobi desert in China's vast Inner Mongolia region, it's not just the local camels who are happy to see the end of a long, cold winter.

Just a few hundred meters from towering sand dunes, workers unearth row upon row of grapevines buried under the sand to protect them from temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit).

These vines are helping fuel a booming Chinese wine industry that has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, as the world's most populous nation grows wealthier and embraces foreign tastes.

Chateau Hansen, which first planted vineyards beside the Gobi in the early 1980s, says the hot, dry summer and plentiful water from the nearby Yellow River make the location among China's best for wine production.

This moderate-sized vineyard near Wuhai city, 670 kilometers (416 miles) west of Beijing, now boasts 250 hectares of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Gernischt grapevines.

"The lowest temperature gets down to below -20 degrees C, but in summer, it can reach 38 or 40 degrees C (102 or 104 F)," said Li Aixin, Chateau Hansen's head of viticulture.

"Here the four seasons are good for the growth of the grapes, but in the winter we need to bury them in the earth" to keep them from freezing.

To raise its profile, Hansen has built a grand European-style chateau, which includes a hotel, and enlisted the help of a French wine expert who acts as winemaker.   Continued...