If you were to visit a Disneyland of wine, you might expect castles with crimson turrets and golden gates, statues with fountains, marble reception rooms and wine museums, and come across hokey names like Chateau Bacchus, Chateau De Da and Saint Louis Ding. All this, and more, exists, in China's Ningxia province, two hours west of Beijing by air.
While the cultural cringe may be palpable, Ningxia's development as a major wine region is a serious proposition. China is determined to become a wine world power and not to rely on overseas imports. With generous subsidies, the provincial government has a plan to turn this remote region into China's answer to Bordeaux.
There are some 60 wineries today with plans to double the number and expand the 30,000 hectares of vineyard to 66,000. The Chinese giant, Chateau Changyu Moser XV, opened its sixth château here in August. The state-owned food powerhouse, Cofco Great Wall, is building a winery the size of an airport terminal. Joining the party, Moët Hennessy's Chandon brand has big plans for fizz and Pernod-Ricard is already producing wines in the mould of its own Jacob's Creek with its Domaine Helan Mountain wines.
Sitting at 1,200 metres at the eastern foot of the Helan Mountain range, Ningxia's abundance of water from the Yellow River, its moderate climate and varied soil types are yielding a handful of surprisingly delicious red wines. The best are from small wineries such as Emma Gao's Silver Heights and JiaBeiLan, which surprised the world by winning an international trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2011. It looks like we will soon see some of the current cream of the crop here in the UK.
On the minus side, Ningxia reaches -27C in winter so the vines have to be buried to prevent them from dying. Mixed vineyards, unhealthy vines and an old-fashioned quantity over quality mentality among small growers prevails. And no one is quite sure yet which grape varieties will work best here, or if the local cabernet gernischt, believed to be the same grape as Chile's carménère, is a commercial proposition.
With the provincial capital of Yinchuan nearby, draws such as the tomb of Xi Xia King and ancient rock pictograms make wine tourism a reality. Eyeing Ningxia's success story, the neighbouring province of Inner Mongolia has just announced a 1 billion yuan (£100m) wine development plan. Thanks to a vast, expanding middle class with the cash to splash on eating and drinking, China is becoming the new frontier of wine with Ningxia spearheading its next revolution.Reuse content