Changli is one of China’s largest winemaking districts, with 80 per cent of the county’s tillable land used for growing grapes. China’s first bottle of red wine was made in Changli in 1983, branded “Beidaihe”, from cabernet sauvignon grapes.
Sometimes called China’s “Bordeaux region” (like Bordeaux it is at 39 degrees north latitude), the most famous wineries are Bodega Langes (Qinhuangdao) Corp, Kweichow Moutai Distillery Group Changli Winery Corp and COFCO (China Oil and Foodstuffs Corporation) Huaxia Greatwall Wine Corp, and these large commercial wineries, producing French-style Cabernets and which require an appointment to visit, take up much of the county, but some of it is accessible to the casual visitor, particularly the area called Grape Valley, where several smaller vintners sell direct to the public, and which is well worth a visit.
Several local grape varieties are grown here by local farmers and small family-owned vintners, some of the grapes are sold as fruit and are very good to eat – and the local honey is gorgeous. The wines are of extremely variable quality, from some like vinegar, to some which are really very good, although quite unlike European wines. Tastings are possible, but not particularly cheap. A lot of these wines are bought up by Beijingers, who drive out to visit a tasting and drive home with a few boxes (strangely, not always of the good stuff).
The region’s wines are generally improving in quality and reputation.
My first visit, in August 2008, was a bit of a washout, as there was a huge thunderstorm, so I had to wait until September, when I was able to join in with a group of teaching colleagues and students from Tourism English.
Grapes are not the only thing to grow in Changli. On another visit, in May 2005, with a couple of my students, we first visited a local temple (can’t remember the name, and can’t find the first two characters of that name in my usually reliable character-finder).
Afterward, one of them took us to her auntie’s restaurant, which fronted the family farm, where all the food was grown.
On my last visit to Grape Valley, again with a couple of students from Ocean College, we actually stopped at a medium-sized winery for an official tasting. The wines were OK, not outstanding, but distinctive enough to buy a couple of bottles to take back to Jinan, where I was then living.