Bunches: What does this one vine say about China’s wine industry?

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By Jim Boyce

During a tour of some wine operations in Ningxia two years ago, Isak Pretorius of the Australian Wine Research Institute was surprised to find 43 grape bunches on this one vine. We saw plenty of heavily loaded vines during that trip, vines that elsewhere might only have a fraction as many grapes, and the natural reaction was to wonder why — in fact, it is a question I have heard many times over the years

Is it because winery managers and wine makers in China are unaware that reducing yield might result in better grapes?* Unlikely. A much more plausible scenario is that in the battle between quality and quantity, the latter usually wins, whether due to management goals tied to high production numbers (including a focus on bulk wine), situations where grapes are bought from farmers based on weight, or a market reality that sees factors than other than taste determine many wine purchases — brand, price, and so on. This should be of interest to anyone concerned that China might become a competitor in global wine markets because it suggests that policy changes, including yield reductions, could quickly result in quality gains.

* By the way, this assumes that lower yields produce better wines, although there are divergent views on the degree to which this is true. And yields are, of course, only one factor that might influence grape quality.

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