A journey of a thousand bottles begins with a single winery. Or something like that.
Anyway, a big challenge in Ningxia is actually reaching those wineries as they are scattered north to south for over 200 kilometers.
Many people fly to Yinchuan and get to the producers by being in a tour group, by getting picked up by a winery rep or by renting a car. There are other options, from cycling excursions to regional bus routes, but those are typical.
This month, I gave ride-sharing app Didi a try—with mixed results. Here are case studies from Yinchuan and the far smaller city of Qingtongxia.
Qingtongxia, in the heart of wine-making country, is modest by China standards with 270,000 inhabitants, although that would be a top-25 city in Canada. Last week, after enjoying some hand-pulled noodles and a nice stroll, I decided to visit Vegani winery about 20 km away from city center.
I typed Vegani in Chinese into Didi, quickly got a driver confirmation and was heading to the vineyard within 10 minutes. Expected time and fare: ?47.5 and 25 minutes.
The car was a bit rickety but we made good time, rumbling over rippled roads, sailing past the poplars. Then we hit this roadblock. Oops.
We backed up and slowly headed down a side road while driver and winery owner talked by phone. We then returned to the roadblock, which we showed the owner via phone video to confirm, yep, there is a roadblock, and decided on an alternative route.
We ultimately made it to Vegani, with the fare almost double the estimate – ?86.94 – and the trip just over an hour. We had to overcome a few obstacles but it was my first successful Didi ride to a Ningxia winery!
The return trip is a bigger challenge, as far more Didi drivers patrol city centers than they do the remote regions where wineries are situated.
I had a dinner appointment in Qingtongxia City, so we asked the driver to wait 90 minutes while I toured Vegani. He agreed. Credit Vegani for having a shaded parking area that that makes snoozing in a vehicle comfortable on a sunny late-afternoon Ningxia day.
After the tour – I’ll post more on Vegani owner Zhang Yi and his delicious wine soon! – I wasn’t sure how to handle the return trip. Do I request a Didi and the driver instantly accepts it? Nope. The driver drove to the edge of the Vegani property and started to negotiate.
Vegani’s owner, seeing this, came over to make sure all was okay. The driver said yes, all okay, then drove 500 meters further to continue negotiations! He wanted ?130, I suggested?86.94, and we settled on ?100, thus making the round-trip fare ?186.94. The trip back to Qingtongxia was fast and easy.
On the last day of my trip, I decided to take a Didi to visit winemaker Johnny Liu of Lingering Cloud, who is about 20 km south of my hotel in Yinchuan, and then another Didi to the airport, another 20 km east of that.
Again, getting a Didi was easy: my request was instantly accepted and I was en route within five minutes, with an estimated fare of ?57 and a ride time of just over half an hour.
The car, featuring Didi livery, was clean, the driver polite and the ride smooth. We whizzed along, passing Zhongshan Park and its giant Ferris wheel, and arrived in 33 minutes, with a fare of ?52.07. I was tasting pet-nat with Liu in no time.
After that excellent tasting – more details soon – it was time to head to Hedong Airport for my return to Beijing.
I punched the address into Didi, waited five minutes but got no hits. Liu seemed concerned and went to ask at a local shop about finding a local driver. (Frankly, I was willing to wait 30 minutes or more – I have often waited an hour-plus in Beijing. Of course, in those cases there actually are drivers but far too many customers. Still, it’d be interesting to see how long it took. Perhaps I’d still be on that sleep road having another Snickers and Coke?
Anyway, Liu negotiated the ride for ?150 – he refused to accept my money so I’m going to buy a bunch of his wine. The driver wasn’t quite as smooth as the one from Yinchuan, but he did get me to the airport parking garage in plenty of time for my flight. Total cost, just over ?200.
As noted at the beginning, mixed results with these two test cases. But as with anything else in Ningxia, things are in flux and the options for getting to and from wineries are bound to improve. I’ve still yet to try my hand, literally, at good old-fashioned hitchhiking.
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