In 2013, the Eastern foothills of the Helan Mountain officially became a protected area for geographical indication wines from China. From North to South, between the foothills of the Helan Mountain in the West and the Yellow River in the East, Shizuishan, Helan, Yinchuan, Yongning, Qingtongxia and Hongsipu are the area’s six sub-zones. Vines grow along a narrow strip, collectively known as the Eastern foothills of the Helan Mountain.
Ningxia has a cool continental climate, with very hot, dry summers followed by extremely cold winters, forcing winegrowers to bury the vines to ensure they survive the winter. Average annual rainfall is a diminutive 240 mm, making irrigation a requisite – drip irrigation is therefore commonplace throughout the region’s vineyards. Average elevation is over 1,000 m above sea level and drops from North to South. The combination of long sunshine hours, high day-night temperature variations of up to 15°C and a fairly long ripening season enable the fruit to reach peak ripeness, both in terms of sugars and phenolic ripeness, whilst retaining balanced acidity. Red grape varieties are still in the majority – over 90% of vineyard area is planted to red cultivars – with Cabernet-Sauvignon accounting for over 70%, followed by Cabernet Gernischt and Merlot. Marselan has proved to be an excellent second choice in recent years and is considered by many as the future of Chinese wines. For the white varietals, Chardonnay represents over 70% and is often highly perfumed with notes of tropical fruits and high alcohol content. Other white varieties include Welschriesling, Riesling and, to a lesser extent, Vidal.
Over the past few years, with the support of the Ningxia Autonomous Region Party Committee and the Central People’s Government, it is estimated that across the Helan Mountain region, nearly 100,000 tonnes are produced annually, generating over 20 billion RMB in value.