Chinese Champagne? Moet Hennessy’s Vineyard in China

Moet Hennessy has announced that it is planting its first vineyard in China with the state owned agricultural company Ningxia Nongken.

Nongken already has 670 hectares of vineyards with an annual wine processing capacity of 30,000 tonnes, and aims to expand its vineyards to 2,010 hectares in the Helan Shan district, Ningxia Hui, where the joint venture vineyard is located.

Nongken also has a joint venture with Carlsberg in the area as well as managing large vineyards and producing beer, wine and white spirits.

Established in 1950 Nongken has more than 187,000 hectares of agricultural land and the joint venture will include 66 hectares (163 acres) of land holdings, with Moet Hennessy in control of a new winery on site.

This will be the largest area for sparkling wine production in China. Moet Hennessy had been looking for wine production areas in China since 2008 and, although no financial details of the deal are available, Moet Hennessy owns 60% of the vineyard and Nongken 40%. However, Moet Hennessy is the sole owner of the winery.

Ningxia lies in north west China, just south of Inner Mongolia and the region’s farmland area is the 4th largest in China with one of the 10 biggest pasture areas in the country.

Despite the threat of desertification in some areas, agriculture is still an important part of the local economy, especially in northern areas where the Yellow River passes through the region. Ningxia also produces half of the world’s Cashmere.

It is also a favourite film location for filming Chinese historical epics – Genghis Khan himself died there, after being mortally wounded in battle.

France’s Pernod Ricard group already grows in the Ningxia region which Moët is now targeting. Pernod Ricard produces Silver Heights and Dom Helan Mountain in a joint venture in the area.

LVMH (who own 66% of the drinks division, Moet Hennessy) have a well established business network in China. Their Hennessy Cognac has been distributed with success in China since 1859 and the company opened its first subsidiary in China in 1993.

In 2008 LVMH acquired a 55% stake in one of China’s top producers, Wenjun Distillery. Wenjun Distillery make a a premium baijiu (the traditional spirit of China) and is the the first Asian brand to be owned by the LVMH group).

Moet Hennessy plans to produce a top end sparkling wine made to traditional methods under their brand name of Chandon.

Chandon was founded in 1960 in Argentina and includes Moet Hennessy wines produced in California, Brazil and Australia. It is hoped that the wine will be ready to drink in 3 years time.

According to Chandon’s website all Chandon sparkling wines are made with the same grape varieties used in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier. They are also aged in their bottles for a minimum of 18 months.

Ningxia was chosen as the location for the joint venture after studies were conducted in all the major wine producing regions in China.

It was thought that this region had the best suited climatic conditions and soil characteristics for making the sparkling wine. I can’t find any plantings recorded of Pinot Noir grapes as yet in Ningxia but there are 266 hectares of Reisling and 200 hectares of Chardonnay there.

It is also thought that the joint venture will enhance the wine making skill level in China as well as and develop the sparkling wine market there.

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