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As China's Wine Industry Grows, France Trains a New Generation
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Yixuan Hao is sitting in a classroom in the Burgundy area of France, with a glass of red wine in her hand.

She examines the wine as she slowly moves the glass around. Next, she takes a small taste. Then, she smells it.

Yixuan has been tasting and smelling wines all afternoon. They were produced in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and California.

One day, students who come to France to study wine may be tasting vintages from another producer: China.

Yixuan, who is 23 years old, comes from Xinjiang, a large, dry area in northwest China. Xinjiang is the country’s biggest producer of wine grapes.

Yixuan says she has come to France to, in her words, “learn from others who know better.

“We’re trying to develop our own style, rather than copy the Bordeaux and the Burgundies."

Yixuan is a student at the School of Wine and Spirits Business in Dijon. It is a program within the Burgundy School of Business.

Nearly one-third of the students here come from China.

The country that dominates manufacturing products from wind turbine technology to smart phones is now turning its attention to oenology, the study of wine. And it is training a new generation of Chinese students in the field.

Many Chinese come to Burgundy’s winemaking country. Here, small farms, ancient villages and rolling green hills have come together to form a love of terroir. This term, which describes a particular land, climate and soil, helps define the identity of every wine.

Jerome Gallo is the wine school’s director. He says the Chinese students hope to return home with the tools to produce the best wines they can.

“Most of them go back to China after the program,” Gallo says. “Because it’s their home country and because there are a lot of things to develop there.”

The school’s one-year master’s program teaches the workings of the wine trade, from finance and business management, to marketing and sales. The school urges its students to serve as volunteer interns in France or other countries. And even with students sometimes paying more than $15,000 to attend the school, there is no shortage of Chinese applicants.

Learning the trade

During a class on New World wines, students study the taste and intensity of a large number of vintages.

“You can smell blackberry, apple, orange,” says 21-year-old Lei Shi from northern China. “It’s magic.”

Shi hopes to fine a job as an international wine buyer for a Chinese company one day. But he says that many Chinese need to develop a deeper wine knowledge.

“The wine culture in China now is not very good because most people, they don’t know how to taste the wines. So we still have a long way to do to teach the Chinese people how to taste the wines, how to enjoy our wines.”

But China has most of what it needs. It grows more grapes than any country other than Spain. While most of the farming is for the fruit itself, China’s wine industry is growing quickly.

By 2020, China is expected to become the world’s second-biggest wine market, after the United States.

The majority of wine consumed in China is also produced there. Yet China is turning into a major importer of wine.

Yixuan says, "The new generation is more open to French culture and French wines than the old generation. Middle and upper classes want to consume wines from different regions, like Italy.” For them, she notes, it’s a sign of wealth.

Huge French-and Italian-style properties are being built in many parts of China. A wine theme park opened in southeast China earlier this year.

At a store called La Route des Vins in central Dijon, Adrien Tirelli describes Chinese visitors as coming with guide books in hand.

"Chinese people, like all the new consumer, just learn in the guide and then they come with the books, and they tell me, 'I want this one, this one, this one…'"

Liu Yan is a Burgundy wine expert and Chinese tour guide. She arrived in Burgundy to study wine more than 10 years ago. Unlike most other Chinese students, she stayed.

"I love Burgundy, the simplicity of the people who are intense about their work," she says. "And especially this love of the land, people don’t want to lose it.”

Yan believes that China will someday be among the world’s major wine producers. But it cannot compete with Burgundy, she says.

“Every wine represents a terroir,” she says. “The land isn’t the same. The environment, the earth, all that doesn’t produce the same kind of wine.”

I’m John Russell.

And I’m Ashley Thompson.

VOA's Lisa Bryant reported this story from Dijon, France. Ashley Thompson adapted her report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Does your country produce wine? We want to hear from you. Describe the wine industry where you live in the comments section.


Words in This Story

afternoon – n. ​ the middle part of the day : the part of the day between noon and evening​

vintage – n. ​the grapes or wine produced during one season​

style – n. ​a particular way in which something is done, created, or performed​

dominate – v. ​to be much more powerful or successful than others in a game, competition, etc.​

applicant – n. ​someone who formally asks for something (such as a job or admission to a college) : someone who applies for something​

consume – v. ​to eat or drink (something)

theme park – n. an amusement park where the rides and attractions are based on a particular theme

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