CHINA’S SOUTHERN MOST VINEYARD MAKES SUBTROPICAL WINE FROM NATIVE SPIKY GRAPES
By Siulan Law Mathews DipWSET
China’s southern most vine growing area in Guangdong province bordering Hong Kong is producing subtropical wines from a native spine grape (Vitis davidii) called Ziqiu (Autumn Purple).
Lechang county, located in a mountainous region some 280km to the north of Hong Kong at latitude 25N, is believed to have mainland China’s southern most vineyards.
Some 320 hectares in the county are currently under vines. Unlike neighbour Hong Kong which plans to build a waterfront vineyard planted with Burgundy variety Pinot Noir, most of the vineyards in Lechang are planted with the native spiky black grape Ziqiu.
Ziqiu is a cultivar of the Viti davidii species, it is a native Asian grape from the southern Hunan province to the Northwest of Guangdong.
This variety is best suited for the subtropical climate of Southern China, it can cope with high temperature, high humidity and short day light during growing season. It is late ripening, its fruits are said to have high anthocyanin content and are suitable for wine making.
Cultivation of vine grapes in Lechang county is mainly undertaken by the Yuma Wine Estate, construction of its facilities started only in October 2016.
The first phase including the winery and a brandy distillery was completed last year, five labels of Yuma wines and a brandy have since been produced.
The company is supplying their wines and brandy to consumers in the vibrant cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen. It is planning to add sparkling wines to their portfolio at a later stage and is aiming to build a tourism complex with vineyards spanning some 2,000 hectares.
Vitis davidii are unusual looking spiky vines very different from other grape vines. They have huge, rough leaves and dull-tipped translucent reddish spines on the vines.
Unlike most other vines, this Chinese native does not root easily from cuttings, perhaps explaining why they are not readily available outside of China.
Dubbed “pearls of Hunan” by local people, phenolic researches found that the spine grapes including Ziqiu are capable of producing wines with aroma characteristics similar to Vitis vinifera, the European species of which majority of present day wine grapes belong to.
The dry red wines made from black spine grapes are described as tasting like Pinot Noir and are said to be good for drinking two years after harvest, reaching their peak in the fifth year.
It is an unusual practice to use non-vinifera species to make wines. Early North American immigrants experimented with their native species but found the resultant wines loaded with unpleasant foxy aromas. They then invented hybrid vines by crossing European and American species, a well known example is the white variety Vidal which is widely used in making Ice Wines.
(the writer can be contacted at: SLawMathews@thewinechronicle.com)
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