Xinjiang is China's largest administrative area, located in the north-west corner of the country. It has traditionally been associated with agriculture based on wheat and fruit, but a significant modern wine industry is springing up here in the dry, desert-like terroir. Xinjiang is mostly associated with light, uncomplicated wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot.
Officially classified as an autonomous region, Xinjiang covers 640,000 square miles (1.6 million sq km) and is larger than the US states of Texas and California combined. Much of this area is either desert or mountain, and Xinjiang is cut neatly in two by the Tian Shan mountain range. It is along the southern edge of these mountains that most viticulture takes place, particularly surrounding the cities of Turpan and Bayingol.
Wine has been made in this part of China for around 3000 years. Greek settlers brought vines and farming methods around 300BC, and 13th Century explorer Marco Polo described Xinjiang grape wines in his writings. The Uyghur people who make up the majority of the population in Xinjiang have made grape wine for centuries by boiling hand-crushed grapes with water and fermenting it in clay vessels. Today, the wine industry in Xinjiang is based largely on classic French grape varieties and modern, highly industrialized winemaking techniques.
Xinjiang's climate is truly continental: the region contains the point on land that is furthest from any ocean. It is officially classed as a semi-arid desert climate on the Koppen climate scale, and is characterized by hot summers and very cold winters. Ample sunshine during the growing season ensures the grapes can reach full ripeness, and the low annual rainfall means that there is little pressure from fungal vine diseases.
As in Ningxia, the vines are subject to winter freezes, and as such are buried during the winter for insulation. On the northern side of the mountains, where the climate is cooler and slightly more precipitous, several growers are enjoying considerable success with the production of ice wine, mostly made from the hybrid Vidal grape variety.
Given Xinjiang's vast land area, it is almost impossible to generalize on soil types found throughout the region. The main wine-growing areas have either sandy or rocky soils, and ancient flood irrigation techniques are used to hydrate the vines throughout the year. Some wineries are experimenting with more-modern drip irrigation techniques, allowing them to limit the vigor of the vine and encourage the growth of more-concentrated berries.
Although Xinjiang is currently better known for bulk wine production, the viticultural sector here is seeking to improve its winemaking techniques and select better cultivars in order to markedly increase both the quantity and quality of the wines. As a result, the region is beginning to attract attention from international investors, winemakers and consumers.
Tiansai 'Skyline of Gobi' Selection Shiraz, Xinjiang, China
Tiansai 'Skyline of Gobi' Classic Merlot, Xinjiang, China
Puchang Vineyard Premium Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Xinjiang, China
Niya Berries Selection Special Ferment Cabernet Sauvignon, Xinjiang, China