The SOMM Journal

February / March 2017

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Page 68 of 116

68 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017 THE TRANSITION FROM THE SONG TO the Yuan Dynasty in the late 13th century marked the domination of the Mongols over China. This was made possible by one of the world's greatest conquerors, Genghis Khan, who made his entry into China via the majestic Helan Mountains, which mark the border of Inner Mongolia and the Western Xia. After his conquest of the capital, Yinchuan, he changed its name to Ningxia, to encourage Ning ("peace") and the stabilization of the Western Xia. Unbeknownst to many visitors, the historical richness of Ningxia far exceeds the naked eye. Under the gargantuan land mass lie ancient tombs from the era of the great Xixia King. Archaeological excava - tions have unearthed historical artifacts indicating the use of fire in the Paleolithic Age, proof of human activity here as far back as some 30,000 years ago. Much later, the region was also part of the Silk Road, an important route of trade, religion and cultural exchange between parts of Asia and Europe. Today, history is once again in the mak - ing in Ningxia. Supported by the Chinese government, the Ningxia region holds the key to the future of the Chinese winemak - ing industry. Although sitting at the same latitude as Bordeaux, Ningxia could not be more dif - ferent; it has a dry, arid continental climate with altitudes of over 1,000 meters (3,280 feet). The famed Yellow River is its main source of irrigation, as annual rainfall is no more than 240 millimeters (9.5 inches). Winters are bitterly cold; vines must be buried under soil from November to April to have a chance of survival. The growing season is short but intense, with 3,000 hours of sunshine (compared to 2,200 in Bordeaux), which for winemakers presents the challenge of sugar vs. phenolic ripeness. Around every 30 years there is a real risk of a major flood causing damage to the CHINA'S NINGXIA HUI AUTONOMOUS REGION HOSTS THE BEGINNING OF A NEW INDUSTRY by Bernice Cheng Seasonal employees from the neighboring local village tend the vines at Silver Heights in spring. Despite its trying geography and difficult climate, China's Ningxia region has attracted 95-plus wineries since the late 1990s. The Perfect Blend: Historic Battleground and Mystical Wine Region Thierry Courtade and Emma Gao, owners of Silver Heights, catch a breath next to their crops just before harvest in 2015. PHOTO: JOSEPH BRENNAN { china }

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