Set in Stone | Xi Jinping visited this Ningxia winery yesterday

Lots of wine trade people were excited on WeChat last night following news that China’s President Xi Jinping visited a Ningxia winery. (I haven’t seen this many people talk about Xi and wine since he shared that glass with Emanuel Marcon.)

Photos show Xi at winery Yuanshi, which ranks among the more stunning operations in China. True to its name, which includes the character for stone, this place leverages Ningxia’s quarries for an impressive blend of function–a fully operating winery–and form–a tour means meandering through cellars, tasting rooms, antique collections and more, put together with attention to lighting, history, and local products (see the photos below).

Other photos show Xi in a vineyard I am told is part of Yuanshi’s operation.

Xi’ s winery visit was part of an itinerary that covered everything from an eco-tourism park to a cardboard factory. And his visit in general has some historical resonance.

As a high-ranking Fujian province official, Xi visited Ningxia in 1997, then created an anti-poverty initiative for the region’s south. Two decades later, Ningxia, like most of China, has seen its fortunes change.

And there are intriguing links to the wine trade. When I went to Ningxia in 2018 to visit Xige Winery (Pigeon Hill), head of wine-making Liao Zusong took me to a town called Minning. That town is named for Fujian (known as Min) and Ningxia, a reminder of those anti-poverty initiatives from decades back. And the vines at Xige, a short drive away? They were planted around that same time. Feels fateful, no?

Anyway, there was excitement last night about what Xi’s visit might mean, far more than when he came to power in 2012 and began a campaign against official spending on luxury goods. That campaign worried many in a wine trade where sales to state-owned firms and official channels were a major chunk of business. But that campaign also shifted focus toward, and helped mature, the consumer market, which represents an ever-growing amount of spending power.

Unfortunately, Ningxia has yet to truly cash in on that market. The region’s wines get better and better, and earn mounds of contest medals and good reviews, but sales have yet to match. Thus, central government attention, a visit by the country’s leader — who spoke highly of Ningxia wines during an earlier trip — spark hopes for good results ahead, perhaps leveraging rising nationalist sentiment and calls by some for Chinese people to drink Chinese wine.

Here are photos of Yuanshi taken during a handful of visits from 2012 to 2018. i should add that Yuanshi is also among the few Ningxia wineries where I’ve seen many visitors, including those ubiquitous wedding photo groups (second-last photo).

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