The wine region of Gansu has a long history of winemaking that extends back nearly 2,400 years. In fact, ancient Chinese poets composed poems about wine from the region. In part, the historical importance of wine to the region has to do with its unique geographical location – it is situated between the Tibetan and Loess plateaus, in a part of the country (the Hexi Corridor) that once served as part of the Ancient Silk Road. The Yellow River runs through the southern part of the province, and two other prominent wine regions border Gansu: Ningxia and Xinjiang.
There are three major winemaking sub-regions within Gansu: Wuwei, Zhangye and Jiayuguan. Of these three sub-regions, Wuwei is by far the biggest and most prominent name. Wuwei is located within the Shiyang River Basin. Wuwei has a cool, continental climate but only limited rainfall throughout the year, leading to arid and semi-arid conditions for most vintages. The sandy soils in the region are rich in minerals, but low in organic matter: this requires extensive efforts by grape growers (including fertilization) to ensure that vines can grow properly. Moreover, winters in Gansu are extremely cold and dry, and that necessitates burying the vines in the earth to protect them from the weather.
The primary grapes in Gansu are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Riesling. Some ice wine is also produced in Gansu. Generally speaking, late-ripening grape varieties tend to perform best, which is a challenge given the cool climate.
Despite the centuries-old tradition of winemaking in Gansu, the modern wine industry really only started to take shape in the mid-1990s. One major factor is geography. Since Gansu is located far inland, it does not have the same transportation infrastructure as China’s coastal cities. Given the Chinese government’s support of a new Silk Road economic initiative, though, that might be good news for local Gansu winemakers looking for additional sales or export channels.