Chairman Mao once declared that the Chinese people should drink wine instead of rice spirits or cheap beer; he even encouraged the building of state-run “wine manufacturing plants.” Today, the world’s most populous nation is experiencing a rise in global wine production and consumption, but winery experiences are often limited to the warehouse-like structures of the past.
Enter Chateau Changyu, a faux-French castle located one hour from Beijing. Perched on a hilltop surrounded by a forested, park-like setting, the replica of picture-perfect French wine country is China’s recent effort to market wine domestically through an idyllic—and some may argue Disneyland-like—lens.
Changyu is China’s largest winery, producing Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The winery is as much about promoting the lifestyle of wine as its own pourings. Targeted to China’s growing middle class (the same people who are driving the evolving wine culture there), the estate offers grapeseed spa treatments, a wine history museum, private tasting rooms and a 180-seat theater screening Sideways with Chinese subtitles Hands-on guests can buy vines, care for them during the year, harvest the grapes and make their own wine.
The project is a complex partnership between Changyu, foreign investors from America, France, Italy and Portugal, and the Chinese government. But why the French slant? According to Leng Tianji, general manager of the village hotels and restaurants, it’s a natural context for the Chinese market. “Chinese people know that France is the wine culture,” he says, a fact supported by the English-speaking Chinese habit of calling wineries “chateaus.”
Whatever the case, Changyu’s winemaker Ruan Shili sees a domestic market on the verge of explosion. “Our market is mostly domestic and in 10 years our market will still be domestic,” he says. “The Chinese per capita consumption [of wine] is a ½ liter per year. But the world average is three to four liters per year. So there is a huge growing space within China.” That growing space could just change worldwide wine history.
To read about wine bars popping up in Shanghai, click here.