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By ALEXIS HOOI and ZHAO RUIXUE in Yantai, Shandong | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-11-24 09:42

Grape expectations CHINA DAILY

Divine vine

Yantai's enological advantages are obvious in the scenic Penglai area-known as the "habitat of immortals "since ancient times-where vineyards and wineries, large and small, dot the coastal hills.

Renowned French winemaker Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) chose to establish its first Chinese estate Domaine de Long Dai there, with 4 hectares of vineyards spread across 420 terraces. The vines were planted a decade ago in the granitic soils of the Qiushan valley foothills. The French group works with farmers and villagers who help produce about 2,500 cases of its Long Dai wines annually.

Long Dai's technical manager Denise Cosentino said the vineyard is committed to producing the best quality grapes based on the local conditions.

"The top advantage of Penglai is surely its position," she said. "What we are trying to do in Long Dai is let the grapes express the place where they are growing. We are able to produce wines that are very elegant and balanced with finesse."

Liu Layu, chief winemaker of the up-and-coming Longting Vineyard, said Penglai boasts an "industry ecosystem" of top experts and an environment that allows stakeholders to improve and innovate.

"Many fruit farmers have rich experience in apple cultivation here, so the agricultural expertise helps when we guide and manage local staff in growing our grapes," he said, adding that local government support of the sector, including subsidies in the crucial first few years of vineyards, are also important.

Longting occupies 68 hectares, with half of the estate dedicated to vines producing 50,000 bottles of high-end wines a year. Its cellar, which uses state-of-the-art equipment and proved winemaking techniques, covers 3,700 square meters, with another 4,000 sq m for guest rooms and dining.

Its lauded wines include a delicate chardonnay created by precise production methods that reflects the beauty of the area, Liu said. "We prefer to focus on quality, not quantity, to let nature take its course in our wines," he said.

At the neighboring Chateau Anuo, annual production of about 60,000 bottles is geared toward a growing number of domestic, urbane clients who favor its range of boutique wines that have won international awards.

Anuo's general manager Li Shunqing said its floral, fruity wines, distinctly Penglai, strike a chord with young clientele.

The vineyard covers more than 80 hectares and leverages the microclimate of the Qiushan valley in the southern part of Penglai. "It's been seven years since we planted our first grapes. This is a competitive sector that requires heavy investment and commitment, but we're seeing healthy returns," he said, adding that "experiential travel and cultural tourism" are also set to expand here.

Penglai's winemakers are behind the impressive progress Yantai has made to become the industry leader, the city's vine and wine bureau chief Gao Jingtao said.

"Chinese winemaking here is deeply valued. Its economic strengths and industry expertise are tied to inimitable historical aspects and cultural roles, altogether offering what can be an 'Asian wine' to the world," Gao said.

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