Cao Kailong, head of Ningxia’s wine bureau and a diligent architect turning his poverty-stricken childhood hometown into China’s premier wine region, has passed away on May 30 at age 57.
Cao’s passing was described by China Association for Alcoholic Drinks (CADA), the country’s official drinks industry regulator, as “a huge loss for China’s wine industry”.
Born in 1965 in Ningxia’s southwestern Haiyuan county, Cao played an active role in promoting Ningxia’s local wine industry and drawing development plans for the region.
After graduation in Beijing, Cao spent years working in government agencies on poverty alleviation in Ningxia in 1990s, and in 2012 he was appointed as head of Ningxia’s Grape and Flower Industries Development Bureau, where he saw growing local viticulture as a powerful tool to lift locals out of poverty through job creations, wine sales and tourism.
In 2015, Cao was appointed as deputy director of Ningxia Grape Industry Development Bureau before he was promoted as director of the bureau in 2017.
Under his leadership, Ningxia’s wine industry enjoyed unprecedented government support within the country and formed a relatively comprehensive management system. The Ningxia Grape Industry Development Bureau up till today is still the only department-level government wine organization inside China.
While boosting Ningxia’s wine production at home, Cao was resolute in elevating Ningxia on world stage. He helped Ningxia obtain an OIV observer membership and encouraged Ningxia wines to compete in international wine and spirits competitions.
His other projects include creating vine nursery, leading Ningxia delegations to international wine fairs and launching ‘Ningxia Winemakers Challenge’ to promote winemaking exchanges with international wine experts.
During his time, Chinese president Xi Jinping twice visited Ningxia wine region first in 2016 then in 2020 and shortly Ningxia formed a State Council-backed a pilot zone to significantly boost its production to rival other international wine regions.
Drastically different from a decade ago when Ningxia was a far-flung outpost on the edge of Gobi desert, the province is now home to 211 wineries and produces about 130 million bottles of wine a year.
Revenue from wine sales in Ningxia increased by 15% last year, and exports surged by 256% despite pandemic.