China's Napa Valley: The Wines of Ningxia with Karlis Rokpelnis - Context Travel

China's Napa Valley: The Wines of Ningxia with Karlis Rokpelnis


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Ningxia in China's northwest is the pre-eminent wine region in the country which has become one of the largest wine markets in the world. Dive deep into the history and geography of this meeting point of Chinese, Mongol, and Islamic ways of life and the wines produced here.

Chinese grape wine has transformed from an infamously un-quaffable swill to a sought-after novelty that exceeds the expectations of wine aficionados. In this transformation, an unlikely contender – the remote and proverbially harsh Ningxia region – has emerged as the frontrunner among Chinese wine-producing regions. In 2020, international exports of Ningxia wine grew by 45%.

Ningxia is located on the boundary between Chinese and Mongolian cultural spaces and has long served as the gateway to Muslim Central Asia. Its inhabitants are known as rugged farmers of an arid landscape traversed by one of China’s lifelines, the Yellow River. Taming the Yellow River’s deadly floods and turning it into a reliable source of irrigation has been a longstanding struggle. Vineyards, cellars, and weekend trippers taking the scenic route through wine country is the latest chapter in that effort to eke out a living in an inhospitable landscape. That effort is bearing fruit. It is transforming the livelihoods of those producing the wines and changing the minds of wine drinkers at dinners and wine bars far away from the Helan Mountains and the sandy plains of Ningxia.

Led by ethnoecologist Karlis Rokpelnis, this interactive seminar will explore the recent history of Ningxia and the emerging role of wine in it. Designed to inform as well as inspire future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the land and the people behind some of China’s best wines.

Karlis Rokpelnis has lived and worked in China for a decade. He received a Ph.D. in ethnoecology from Minzu University of China and has done extensive fieldwork in rural Ningxia focusing on dryland degradation and recovery.

This conversation is suitable for adults over 21 years old

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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