Liz Tach writing for Wine Spectator has reported that the wine producing region of Ningxia in China has introduced a classification system modelled on the Bordeaux 1855 Classification. Ningxia lies in north west China, just south of Inner Mongolia and the Yellow River passes through the region. Its terrain ranges from mountains and desert to vast plains. Ningxia is also a favourite film location for filming Chinese historical epics – it’s said that Genghis Khan himself died there, after being mortally wounded in battle.
The Ningxia Classification will evaluate the wineries every 2 years and therefore has more in common with the Saint Emilion Classification as it allows movement up and down the ranks. The 1855 Classification however is static and has not changed since its birth in the 19th century.
The Saint Emilion Classification is usually revised every 10 years. It has 3 categories Premier Grand Cru Classé A, Premier Grand Cru Classé B and Grand Cru Classé. This ensures that recognized châteaux maintain standards on pain of declassification and it incites the others to make the improvements required to earn the distinction. Furthermore, it guarantees the consumer an authentic quality product.
The Ningxia Classification however will rank wineries in 5 levels as does the 1855 Classification (from 5th Growth to First Growth).
Wine Spectator write that the organizers of the Ningxia Classification hope the system will recognize and encourage Ningxia wineries that consistently produce high-quality wine and assist consumers in making an informed selection.
The panel that oversaw the Ningxia Classification were a group of international wine experts including viticulture specialists and educators and participating wineries were judged by quality of wine, quality of vineyards and quality of tourist activities at the winery, including restaurants and lodging. The judges selected 10 wineries as Fifth Growths:
In 2015 wineries will be evaluated again and some may be promoted to Fourth Growth and in 2017 some may be able to earn the rank of Third Growth and so on. If quality does not remain consistent then a winery can also be demoted. It is hoped that in 8 years there could be wineries classified in all five levels.
Wine Spectator say that:
“In order to be considered, wineries must make at least 4,166 cases and farm at least 13 acres of vineyards. In addition, they must adhere to Ningxia winemaking regulations, which state that at least 75 percent of grapes must come from the region and 85 percent must be of the same variety and from the same vintage listed on the bottle.”
Ningxia has been developing its wine industry rapidly and Moet Hennessy, owned by French luxury group LVMH, have partnered with Xixia King Winery to produce sparkling wine there under their Chandon brand. Pernod Ricard also produces Domaine Helan Mountain in a joint venture in the area. Ningxia government officials have reported that they have planted roughly 58,000 acres of vines, with more in the works. Several large Chinese wine companies including Changyu and Dynasty Wine have begun development in the western region of the province and together they now own 20,000 acres of land. About 100 winery leases have been granted so far but Ningxia officials have plans to expand this to more than 1,000.
It will be interesting to see how the Ningxia Classification pans out and whether other Chinese wine regions will adopt the scheme.