Art Crime pp 41-56 | Cite as

The Grape War of China: Wine Fraud and How Science Is Fighting Back

  • Toby Bull


There has been wine made from grapes — as opposed to grain — in China for thousands of years.1 Indeed, Wang Renxiang considers it to be at the very heart of China’s culture and identity.2 Vine cultivation goes as far back as the Zhou dynasty (ca. 1100–256 BC), where indigenous vines within the royal gardens were said to have existed. The first documented account of Western viticulture coming into contact with the Middle Kingdom is found in a 1st century BC history book, Shiji, where an emperor’s envoy sent to the lands west of what is now the Sino-Uzbekistan border area, saw “grapes that were used to make wine…the oldest was kept several decades without getting spoilt.”3 The envoy, duly impressed, returned with some cuttings and, not long afterwards, Chinese vineyards from a Eurasian grape varietal were established, eventually producing wine fit for the imperial palate.4 And so wine became associated with the rich and high-born: a luxurious and desirous product, and with it, perhaps, the earliest recorded case of a “wine crime” occurring in ancient China.


Auction House French Wine Middle Kingdom Wine Market Wine Grower 
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© Toby Bull 2016

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  • Toby Bull

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