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By ALEXIS HOOI and ZHAO RUIXUE in Yantai, Shandong | China Daily World | Updated: 2021-11-24 09:42

A staff member (right) and a student from Food and Wine College at Ningxia University taste wine at a castle in the eastern foothills of the Helan Mountains in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in July. Taking advantage of employment opportunities in the area, the college has provided qualified winemaking graduates for wineries in recent years. [Photo/Xinhua]

Editor’s Note: The implementation of the China-EU Geographical Indications Agreement is expected to expand the scope of quality products on both sides. This series examines commodities ready to enter east-west markets.

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On a hilly expanse of farmland near the coast of east China’s Shandong Province, Wan Qiuhua earned enough from his crops to buy his only son an apartment and a car, giving him the opportunity to get married and live a comfortable life.

Most farmers in the area believe that the land in Zhuqiao County, Yantai is not fertile enough to support current crops. But Wan cultivated a crop perfectly suited to local conditions: grapes.

“This year, we made 100,000 yuan ($ 15,660) by planting wine grapes,” said Wan, 53, adding that the income was much higher than the corn, wheat and peanuts they received. were cultivating ten years ago. “Before, we could hardly make ends meet on the hilly terrain, but our lives are improving now,” she said.

Wan and her husband have been farming a 10-hectare plot since 2013. They are among 30 farming families who have entered into a land management agreement with Changyu Wine Group, China’s leading wine producer, to grow grapes.

“Hills may not be suitable for most crops, but they are good for wine grapes,” said Yang Yachao, an experienced winemaker from Changyu, a graduate of the College of Oenology at the University of Agriculture. and Northwestern forestry.

In 2012, Yang helped lead the development of Zhuqiao’s main grape growing base, which provides employment for 600 rural residents who each earn 10,000 yuan a year from this work.

Yang also organizes regular training sessions for farmers with his colleagues. “We teach them standard cultivation techniques and train them in the details of growing the vine through its different stages to ensure the highest quality of grapes,” he said.

Yantai is the birthplace and hub of modern Chinese winemaking. Changyu began in 1892, when overseas Chinese industrialist Zhang Bishi invested in the latest wine technologies to harness the region’s climatic and geographic advantages. The region has an annual sunshine of more than 2,600 hours, an annual rainfall of 525 millimeters, an average annual temperature of 13 ° C and a soil with a high gravel content. Ocean breezes blowing over the hills also contribute to the production of coveted coastal wines.

The city has grown to have a wine-growing area of ​​19,000 hectares, which involves at least 203 large companies. There are 12 top winemakers, and last year they produced a total of 71,300 kiloliters of wine, or nearly a fifth of the country’s wine production. Major winemakers harvested about 1.95 billion yuan last year, and 10 wine business groups have annual sales of over 100 million yuan each, according to the Yantai Bureau of Statistics.

The city also has more than 500 wine-related businesses, ranging from agricultural machinery companies to bottle makers and cultural tourism operators. Its wines have won more than 500 industry awards around the world, and Yantai wines last year had a calculated brand value of 85.2 billion yuan, the office said.