GRAPEVINE

"WHEN I first went to Peking to sell our wines in 1989, you had to watch out not to get run over by a bicycle. Now the city has traffic jams to rival Paris or London." Jean-Pierre Grange is assistant manager of the huge, high-tech Plaimont wine co-operative in the rolling hills of Gascony. Last year, he supervised the planting of a 12-acre vineyard in China. "The ultimate aim," he says, "is to sell our own Plaimont wines in China. This vineyard puts us on the inside; it's meant to be a sort of shop window to make people familiar with our wines."

The project is a joint venture with the local government of Miyun, 80km north-east of Peking. "We chose Miyun," Grange says, "because it has the potential to be a fantastic tourist spot. It has everything: a section of the Great Wall, the tombs of the Ming Dynasty, China's largest artificial lake, and a backdrop of beautiful mountains, all connected by a four-lane super-highway to Peking."

It had human advantages, too. In contrast to other places in the running, the Plaimont prospectors struck up an immediate understanding with the people at Miyun so "discussions could go faster". All things are relative. "Notions of time and contract are different in China. We sometimes couldn't understand why what seemed to us a little problem blocked discussion for ages, and then suddenly would be resolved for no reason. The people are astute and friendly, they like to receive people and go out for meals, and to drink a lot of spirits. In the vineyard, we are dealing with small farmers, many of them used to growing table grapes. They understand very quickly what we want, though that doesn't always mean they do it - they can be quite stubborn, too!"

Climate-wise, north-east China is not ideal for Western wine grapes. Peking has hot, damp summers and bitterly cold, dry winters. Local vines (the names translate as "Dragon's Eye", "Cow's Teat", "White Feather" and "Cock's Heart") tend to be very frost-tolerant, but imported European vines are not. Like the less hardy of the Chinese vines, the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon vines the French have planted have to be untied from their wires before the winter and completely buried, by hand, under the soil for protection from the frost.

The Plaimont co-op is tiptoeing in the footsteps of a few rather larger compatriots. Remy Martin was the pioneer in 1978. Its aims were exactly the same as Plaimont's. Cognac is the big celebratory tipple of those Chinese who can afford it, and the wine venture would help to sell Remy Cognac. Remy Martin now sell 13 million bottles a year of their Dynasty brand within China - half the Western-style wine drunk by the Chinese. Then there's the huge Pernod-Ricard company, with their big Dragon Seal wine brand. And a large Bordeaux merchant, William Pitters, has just geared up to make three million bottles a year of a wine called Asia.

It's not just the French who are entering the Chinese market. The international company Seagram (who own Martell Cognac) have their Summer Palace brand. And Allied Lyons help to make nearly two million bottles of Chardonnay and Riesling at the Huadong winery, 300 miles south of Peking. Allied have brought in Australian experts - there had to be some Aussies somewhere - and have trained Chinese wine makers at an Australian university. Their wine, they say, is more upmarket, and more expensive than the rest, which are unimpressive and mostly medium-dry Liebfraumilch style (appropriately for China's often sweetish cuisine).

But do the Chinese want Western-style wine? China has more than 400,000 acres of vineyard, nearly double the area of Bordeaux. Only a third of the grapes grown are turned into wines, mainly cheap plonk for mixing with alcohol and water at table. Beer is China's biggest alcoholic drink by far, followed by rice wine, vermouth-like herbal wine, local white spirits or, for the more affluent, Cognac.

It is in the cities, among the more affluent and sophisticated young - particularly women and southerners - that the Western-style wines of the joint ventures are becoming a fashionable alternative to beer. Real foreign wines are beyond the reach of all but the richest: import duty more than doubles their price, and though smuggling via Hong Kong is rife, most Chinese would still rather buy a bottle of Cognac to celebrate New Year than an expensive imported wine.

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links