The vast green expanse stretching along the eastern foot of Ningxia’s Helan Mountain appears unimaginable as an abandoned quarry if not for the scattered stones among the lines of wine grapes.
After carefully pruning the vines, Su Jinping took a moment to straighten her back and rest. Surveying the breathtaking green landscape, Su, a 51-year-old worker from Yuanshi winery in Haoyuan Village of Yinchuan, the capital of China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, expressed her profound satisfaction. “I feel revitalized and inexplicably content,” she remarked.
Although the Helan Mountain area serves as a natural barrier shielding the Ningxia plain from the encroaching Tengger Desert, it had suffered ecological damage since the 1950s due to the exploitation of its abundant coal and mineral resources. The mountain bore the scars of abandoned quarries and mine pits, casting a shadow over its natural beauty.
Fortunately, through an initiative led by the local government, an ecological restoration and protection campaign was launched, resulting in the closure of coal and other mines. As the eastern foothills of Helan Mountain were discovered to possess an ideal climate for cultivating wine grapes and producing world-class wines, a green renaissance was ushered in. Over the years, more than 200 wineries, including Yuanshi winery, settled in the region.
Yuanshi winery itself is situated on the grounds of what was once a wasteland quarry. After accumulating wealth through mining activities at the foot of Helan Mountain, Yuan Hui, the winery’s first owner, decided to give back to nature. He planted trees and developed a wine industry on the site of the former quarry at the turn of the century.
Su, one of the original employees at the winery, vividly recalls the scenes from two decades ago when she first arrived at the location. “Stones were strewn everywhere, and the sand would grate against my teeth whenever the wind blew. I often worried whether the delicate grape seedlings would survive,” she reminisced.
The seedlings, however, proved hardier than Su anticipated. Over time, a total of 6,000 mu (400 hectares) of mining areas have been restored and treated. This involved planting 8,000 mu of windbreak forests, 1,000 mu of fruit trees, and 3,000 mu of wine grapes, encompassing over 3 million plants of various kinds.
“We transformed the mining pits into cellars and ponds, replacing the quarry site with forests, creating an eco-park accessible to all, and establishing a large intelligent vineyard cultivating 16 varieties of wine grapes. This has significantly enhanced the local microclimate and living environment,” explained Yuan Yuan, Yuan Hui’s daughter, who took over the winery after graduating.
Yuan Yuan, the 31-year-old owner of the winery, emphasized the pervasive influence of eco-environmental preservation, even evident in the winery’s architecture. Rocks and stones from the quarry were used to construct walls, while waste wood and vine clippings were repurposed for roofs.
“We strive to maximize the use of such materials, and it has proven effective. For instance, the thick stone walls help maintain a cool interior during summer and warmth during winter,” Yuan added.
Yuanshi winery serves as a microcosm of the larger picture. To safeguard and restore the ecology of Helan Mountain, Ningxia has invested 1.5 billion yuan (approximately 210.9 million U.S. dollars) since 2017 to develop wine-grape growing bases and plant shelter forest belts. This effort has transformed 350,000 mu of the Gobi Desert into “green corridors.”
In close proximity to Yuanshi winery, workers diligently restore slope vegetation and create a smooth path. In the near future, a vast expanse of 23,000 mu of the Gobi Desert will be transformed into a modern wine industry park with multiple functions, including wine-grape cultivation, wine production, and tourism activities. This ambitious project, with an investment of 67 million yuan, was initiated in May 2022 and aims to establish the world’s largest sunken ecological wine industry park.
“It is not only beneficial to develop the wine industry on former quarry sites, solving the issue of industrial land, but it also contributes to ecological management and environmental protection,” stated a government official. They further highlighted that the wine industry’s exploration and commitment to carbon neutrality will support the nation’s goals of peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
The dedicated efforts of Ningxia to protect Helan Mountain have begun to yield positive results. Building upon the foundation laid by her father, Yuan Yuan strives to integrate the wine industry with cultural tourism and has opened the doors of the winery for free visits. In recent years, the winery has attracted a total of 1.5 million visitors, leading to a consistent 15 to 20 percent increase in sales volume. Yuan Yuan reflected, “Now I truly understand the value of clear waters and lush mountains.”
“I firmly believe that it is only a matter of time before Chinese wines gain global recognition. That is our ultimate aspiration,” Yuan expressed. “In this land where my father planted green hopes, I continue to nurture purple dreams. Our objective remains unchanged—to protect the environment and improve the lives of the local community.”