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China's drinkers develop taste for premium local wines

Top producers look set for big increase in domestic and overseas sales

A waiter pours a wine from China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region into a glass for a judge at a tasting event in Beijing. The number of independently owned wineries in China has more than doubled since 2015, according to the China Alcoholic Drinks Association.   © Reuters

TURPAN, China -- In an oasis surrounded by the desolate Gobi Desert, vines are ripening. As the tiny buds swell into succulent sweet clusters of grapes, snowmelt from the Tian Shan Mountains flows through underground irrigation channels to supply precious water.

Grape varieties suitable for wine have been flourishing in Turpan for more than 1,000 years, but wine has struggled to build a following in modern China, eclipsed for centuries by a local preference for white spirit drinks such as baijiu. Now, though, wine is rapidly becoming a premium tipple for Chinese consumers.

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