Chinese wines are getting better and heading here soon, but what did the military have to do with it?

A few years ago, I did some consulting and testimony regarding a land use matter for a vineyard owner and winemaker. He bought 1,600 acres of wheat land in the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area—home to some of the best red wines in world. He wanted to subdivide the wheat land into 40 acre vineyards that he would sell off. Because of Oregon’s one-of-a-kind land use laws, the process required a major hearing with expert testimony.

As we were touring his existing vineyards, the winemaker told me to keep an eye on China and Chinese wines, because someday they’d be big in the U.S. His thinking went like this:

  • Anywhere you can grow apples, you can grow grapes.
  • In the 1980s, China shrunk its military considerably to free up resources for economic development, nearly 1 million men were rotated out of the military. Because of the one child policy, there was a shortage of potential brides, so the Chinese government determined that these ex-military guys needed gainful employment.
  • Many of the former military men were given agricultural land and trained to run apple orchards.
  • As their agricultural skills improved, apple orchards were converted to vineyards.
  • Winemaking is a natural extension of vineyards, and the Chinese would quickly learn how to make good wines.

Now, it looks like that someday for Chinese wines is almost here.

The Wall Street Journal reports that China now accounts for nearly 11 percent of the land devoted to vineyards in the world, ranking second behind Spain.

On top of that, WSJ says that quality of Chinese wines is improving and have begun to win awards outside China. In addition, French luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has built a winery in a place called Shangri-La in the Himalayan foothills that aims to produce China’s best, and probably most expensive, wine. Moët Hennessy, the LVMH unit that makes Dom Pérignon Champagne, already produces sparkling wine in Ningxia, with a bottle selling for $27.

You’ll know when Chinese wines have really hit the U.S. market when you see them on the shelves of Costco or Trader Joe’s.