Winemaker harvesting fermented fruits of labor

By MO JINGXI/HU DONGMEI|China Daily Global|Updated: March 26, 2019

When Emma Gao went to Bordeaux, France, to study winemaking in 1999, the wine industry in her hometown in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region had not yet truly taken root.

Her father had given her a taste for the wine industry. A small-scale operator in his own right, he had gone to France in the 1990s to get a better understanding of the craft.

On his return he persuaded his daughter to also go to France and study the art of winemaking. Now that she's back, she and her father expanded their vineyard and business grew.

It also helped that her French husband came from a family steeped in the country's winemaking traditions. He now manages the business.

Like good wine, the sector has matured in Ningxia and the region just exported its first shipment of 2,337 boxes of wine to France in February. The second shipment will be on its way soon.

Gao, who runs the boutique winery Silver Heights located in the foothills of the Helan Mountains in Ningxia, has helped change the world's perceptions of Chinese wine.

One wine, appropriately called The Summit and produced by her winery, is prominently displayed in a wine museum in Bordeaux as one of the world's top red wines.

"Wine is a good tool for communication. I hope our wine can help to facilitate the friendship and exchanges between the people in China and France," she said.

Located on a similar latitude as France, Ningxia-known for its rocky, dry terrain-has seen its global reputation as a winemaking region soar, both at home and abroad.

The region started to introduce high-quality wine grape varieties from France in 2013 and is now home to the country's largest contiguous vineyards.

"We also hope to introduce France's advanced measures and ideas for training people in the sector," said Cao Kailong, a director at the Committee of the Grape Industry Zone of Helan Mountain's East Foothills Wine Region in Ningxia.

In 2016, CAFA Wine School in Bordeaux started to work with Ningxia to cultivate expertise.

"It was the rapid development of Ningxia's wine industry in recent years and the high-quality wines it produced that attracted us to set up cooperation programs here," said Thomas Portier, a senior lecturer at CAFA.

According to Cao, Ningxia's vineyards will cover 1,600 square kilometers by 2020 and the region's annual output of wine is expected to exceed 500 million bottles by 2022.

"This will enable the employment of more than 150,000 people," Cao said.

Gao's teenage daughter, also named Emma, was born and grew up on the vineyard.

"I'm sure Emma (the younger) will be proud of our family-run winery and continue to carry it forward when she grows up," Gao said.