We have heard of finding black gold in the desert, but for those vintners who venture to the Gobi Desert, in China’s Inner Mongolia region, treasure is definitely red. Chateau Hansen first planted vineyards near the Gobi in the 1980s, and the risk has paid off. They say the hot, dry summer and plentiful water from the nearby Yellow River make the location among China’s best for wine production.
The vineyard is located near Wuhai city, about 500 miles west of Beijing, and maintains Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Gernischt grapevines. Chateau Hansen’s head of viticulture says, “Here the four seasons are good for the growth of the grapes, but in the winter we need to bury them in the earth” – a practice that keeps them from freezing.
In addition to the chateau, Hansen has built a hotel and keeps a French wine master on staff to act as a wine maker. He has truly created a desert oasis for oenophiles. But the public, the chateau says, is not their biggest buyer.
“Eighty percent of the market in China is really the local governments who encourage the enterprises in their cities to consume red wine, of a certain brand, at their banquets in the place of Chinese ‘baijiu’ for their incessant and never-ending toasts,” said Bruno Paumard, a wine maker who spent years in France’s Loire Valley before moving to China. “So it’s actually a market that’s totally unique.” Baijiu is a fiery Chinese rice wine.
Real estate tycoon and Hansen Chief Executive Han Jianping, plans to build a 3 billion yuan wine cultural center near Ordos, Inner Mongolia’s biggest coal boom town, almost 200 miles east of Chateau Hansen. China has become the world’s fifth-largest consumer of wine, ahead of Britain, according to an International Wine and Spirit Research study, which forecasts 54 percent growth from 2011 to 2015 — about 1 billion more bottles.