Most Of The World's Grapes Come From This Country

Imagine a painting of a bowl of fruit. It has grapes, doesn't it? Of course it does. Grapes might be physically small, but they're a pretty big deal. They're eaten raw or turned into the raisins parents feed their kids. (Or the wine they sip when they get home from work.) According to Medical News Today, grapes can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure, as well as promote ocular, digestive, neurological, and bone health. Plus, says Healthline, they're a good source of fiber and are packed with naturally-occurring compounds called polyphenols which, in addition to giving grapes their trademark opaque colors, are powerful free-radical-fighting antioxidants. 

Variety is the spice of life, and there are many different types of grapes to enjoy: Concord for jelly, cotton candy, red globe, black muscat, and countless others. It's convenient, then, that almost every state in the U.S. produces some variety of grapes, per the Agricultural Marketing Research Center, with California popping out the most. When you think of grapes, besides California, Italian regions like Tuscany or Bordeaux in France might come to mind. But most of the world's grapes don't come from any of these countries. Believe it or not, China leads the world in global grape production. Per Atlas Big, of the approximately 85 million tons of grapes produced worldwide every year, China is responsible for growing nearly 16 million of them. That's nearly double the 8.7 million tons produced by Italy, the second-biggest global grape producer.

The history of grapes in China

So, how did China become the top grape producer in the world? Humans have loved grapes for longer than they've been able to write about their love for grapes. Images of ancient wine-making processes have been depicted in hieroglyphics, says Britannica. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, grapevines were first cultivated agriculturally in the regions now known as Iran and the Black Sea sometime between 7000 and 4000 B.C. Thereafter, grapevine farming expanded to Egypt, Turkey, Israel, and Cypress. Still, Egypt is roughly 4,285 miles from China, per DistanceFromTo, and early viticulturists were traveling on foot. (For reference, it's a plane ride of nearly eight hours.) 

But, by a stroke of luck or sheer willpower, not long after grapes arrived in India, they made their way into East Asia –- and once they reached China, the rest was history. LI Demei is the vice director of the Chinese Wine Technique Committee, a member of the National Wine Judge Board, the vice president of the Chinese Viticulture Society, and an associate professor of Wine Tasting and Enology at Beijing Agriculture College — so, he knows a thing or two about wine. In "The History of Chinese Winegrowing and Winemaking — Part 1," Demei explains that geological fossils of the V. romanetti grape species were found in Linqu County of the Shandong Province, via Decanter China, and they date back a whopping 26 million years.

Grapes and wine in ancient Chinese culture

If you think about wine as interwoven into ancient Europe's zeitgeist, it's understandable. The Greek poet Homer (born around 850 B.C.) talks about wine at length in his works. In his adventure epic "The Odyssey," the titular hero Odysseus even brings wine as a peace offering to an aggressive Cyclops.

They might not be as well-known, but China has ancient writings about wine as well. Li Po (701-762) is lauded as one of the two most prolific poets in all of ancient Chinese literature (alongside Tu Fu). In Po's "Waking From Drunken Sleep on a Spring Day," the poet writes: "Voice of beauty sadly moves me. Is there wine? Ah, fill the cup. Sing and watch the white moon rise, until song's end and sense is gone." Considering this poem was originally penned over a thousand years ago, the record Po offers demonstrates the sociocultural prominence of viticulture in China, even as early as the sixth century.

In "The Whole Book on Agricultural Activities" written during the Ming Dynasty, author Xu Guangqi penned specific records of different grape varieties being planted in China, says Demei. An even greater time for grapes was the Tang Dynasty shortly thereafter: Demei calls the Tang Dynasty "the glorious period in the history of Chinese winemaking." (In fact, this was the Dynasty in which Li Po lived and wrote.)

Viticulture in China today

After the People's Republic of China was founded, says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Chinese grape production saw innovations on a dramatically larger scale. Before the Republic, China produced an estimated 43,000 tons of grapes on average across more than 7,900 acres of farmland. But, after the Republic stimulated economic growth in the agricultural sector, farmland area grew exponentially to produce over 60 times more grapes in 1998 compared to 1949. Today, per the Office of the United States Trade Representative, China is currently the U.S.'s largest trading partner. In 2020, the U.S. imported a whopping $434.7 billion worth of goods from China, $3.8 billion of which were agricultural products alone.

There's a scientific reason why China is ideal for growing fresh grapes. Per the University of Minnesota, grapes' ideal growing condition is full sun, and China has just the climate for the job. Summer is both the hottest and rainiest season in all parts of China except for the Highlands and the high mountains. To check it out for yourself, Tripadvisor lists a visit to Tonghua Grape Wine Co. as No. 7 of the top 12 things to do in Tonghua, China. The winery was incorporated in 1997, and it manufactures ice wines, dry wines, and sweet wines enjoyed all around the world.