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October 17, 2008
Vineyards and chateaus age in China

Chinese wine brands are relatively unknown outside of China.

Though the Chinese milk scandal has dominated headlines in the past few weeks, another beverage gets relatively less attention — wine. The Chinese wine industry has expanded greatly in the past decade, even luring foreign winemakers to China’s fertile land. It has even inspired its own blog: the “Grape Wall of China.”

Cam MacMurchy hosts “BizTraveler” on Tianjin Television and launched the PR and media company Performance Internationalis. He writes at “Zhongnanhai Blog” about the expansion of the Chinese wine industry and its future prospects.

Wineries grow, but is anybody going?

CHANGLI, HEBEI – The thunder is crackling outside my window as I write this, from a beautiful hotel suite at the Chateau Bodega Langes in Hebei Province. For some reason (perhaps the story meetings were canceled this month) this is the second wine-based episode we’ve shot in the last four weeks. The first was at a beautiful winery called Chateau Junding near Yantai in Shandong Province; many months ago, we did two other wine episodes: one as part of a Valentine’s Day show, while the other was a tour of the Dynasty Winery in Tianjin.

I’m not complaining: getting tours of wineries, staying in beautiful chateaus, eating from lavish buffets and drinking free wine is far better than a regular nine-to-fiver.

There’s no doubt that the wine industry (like basically all industries) is growing exponentially in China. Chateau Junding offers a compete wine tour, wine tasting lounge, and a wine museum.  It is set in Penglai, which is about an hour’s drive from Yantai International Airport (and yes, Yantai receives international flights). The decks offer stunning vistas of the nearby lake and vineyards, and the service was top-notch.

While people are very friendly here at Bodega Langes, I’ve found it to be a far cry from the lavish setting in Yantai (perhaps, no matter what Bodega Langes does, the dusty mountains of Hebei can’t compete with a seaside scenery in Shandong). I spoke to the head sommelier here earlier today and asked if they were targeting foreign visitors. “Yes,” he said.  “But you have no English signs?  And no western food?” I retorted.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have been normally so blunt in my assessment, but I remain slightly jet-lagged from a recent trip overseas and the day was dragging. Still, my point stands.

Perhaps, though, I was a little off base: It’s not that there are no foreign visitors here, it’s just that there aren’t any visitors here.  Nor were there very many in Yantai. Nor did I find any at the Dynasty Winery. So what’s happening?

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