When Chen Lizhong decided to build a winery in Yanqi Hui Autonomous County of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region 11 years ago, a mammoth challenge stared at her -- barren Gobi Desert existing for tens of thousands of years.
Yet, she decided to get to work. "We pitched a tent where we used to eat and sleep," said the 53-year-old winegrower. "Gradually, the first batch of staff dormitories was built but as there was no heating, we lit stoves to stay warm."
Recalling the hardships from the early days of her grape business, Chen said the burning flames always made her feel the vitality of life.
"My main occupation was in the transportation field. When I was engaged in a taxi project in Xinjiang in 2010, I learned that the Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture of Bayingolin which administers Yanqi had been vigorously developing the wine industry for years," she said.
A wine lover herself, Chen was impressed by how suitable Yanqi's natural environment was for grape cultivation. She soon decided to start a new career in Yanqi, more than 2,900 km away from her hometown in Beijing.
Located at 42 degrees north latitude, within the grape planting "golden zone" of 30 to 50 degrees north latitude, Yanqi County boasts an average annual temperature of 8.5 degrees Celsius and average annual precipitation of 64.7 mm to 100 mm.
The county has long been a major wine producing area, with the earliest record tracing back to 138 B.C., said Fan Aiqin, deputy secretary general of the Bayingolin Party Committee
It can get about 2,980 hours of sunshine a year and the frost-free period in Yanqi lasts 186 days on average annually, Fan said, adding that the soil in the area is mainly sandy with a loose texture and moderate pH value.
Since 1998, Yanqi has deemed wine its pillar industry, investing about 170 million yuan (about 26.2 million U.S. dollars) so far. The planting area of wine grapes has reached 3,200 hectares and 28 related enterprises have been established.
The county's 27 wine varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay have won more than 600 awards worldwide.
"To extend the industry chain, we have accelerated the integration of wine and tourism, combining scenic spots with grape plantations to attract more tourists and enterprises," Fan said.
Thanks to the concerted efforts of more than a decade, today over 186 hectares of the Gobi Desert have been turned into a grape oasis. Chen's winery is now a tourism complex offering visitors with high-end brewing line experience, wine tasting, accommodation, as well as leisure and entertainment activities.
The winery raked in a total sales revenue of 22 million yuan (about 3.1 million USD)last year and the number is expected to reach 200 million (30 million USD) by 2025.
"From the reclamation of vineyards to the later development, the local government has given us great support, and without this help, nothing would have been possible," Chen said, adding that her goal is to make a bottle of wine that can touch her heart and complete her.
"Initially, some friends suggested that I should buy a winery abroad, which is a simpler and cheaper option. But I decided to set up one in Xinjiang where the environment is as good as that in other countries," she said. "I'm determined to build a Chinese brand with high-quality products and a world-famous reputation."
Produced by Xinhua Global Service