Across China: Frozen grapes brew hot market for ice wine

Source: Xinhua| 2020-08-01 00:29:42|Editor: huaxia

CHANGCHUN, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Summer is usually the harvesting season for grapes. But vineyard owner Jin Yinhao in northeast China's Jilin Province has to wait for another five months before he can have the fruits picked.

The grape breed grown on his 17.3-hectare vineyard in the city of Ji'an is called beibinghong, a local variety of Amur grape that can ferment into ice wine with no need for skin maceration.

Known as liquid gold, ice wine is a rare gift from nature. For a wine to be designated as ice wine, the grapes must be picked at around minus 8 degrees Celsius. It is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine.

"Good wine is actually 'planted.' We have to manually weed and also control the yield to ensure the quality of every grape," said Jin, 63, adding that the grape yield with a capacity of 22.5 tonnes per hectare is limited to 6 tonnes per hectare.

Since the beibinghong breed was developed by experts from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in 2008, a complete ice wine industry chain that covers grape growing, processing, logistics and sales has been formed in the city of Ji'an.

Situated along the golden latitudinal belt, Ji'an has the perfect climate for growing wine grapes as the Changbai Mountains shield the area from the chilly northern wind and the Yalu River brings with it warm air.

"Because of the strict climate requirements, ice wine production bases can only be found in a few places such as Canada, Germany and Austria," said Sun Yanfeng, director of the Amur grape wine R&D center of the Yalu River Valley in Ji'an.

The center is a public service institution co-founded by the local government, the China Agricultural University and local companies.

Sun said Ji'an produces one-sixth of the world's ice wine, which is of high quality.

Kong Qingsen, who operates a local winery, said, to guarantee a sweet taste, local farmers have to pick the fruits in mid-December, when the temperature is neither too high nor too low.

"The grapes will melt if it's too hot and will be frostbitten if it's too cold," Kong said, adding that the picking has to be done before the sun rises, as sunshine will also melt the frozen grapes.

Since 2016, Kong has seen all of the 50,000 to 60,000 bottles of ice wine produced by his winery every year sell out.

Over the past five years, local wineries have won more than 36 prizes across the world, including the international wine contest in Brussels, Belgium. Their mid-range products are now sold for around 1,000 yuan (about 143.3 U.S. dollars) per bottle.

Farmer Sun Lianbo from Qingshi Township grew grapes for 30 years before learning how to brew ice wine from the R&D center. Now, he has built cold storage, purchased two trucks for the transportation of local grape products and sold his homemade ice wine online.

"Compared with grape plantations, the ice wine business is far more profitable. I can earn an additional income of more than 100,000 yuan annually simply by selling ice wine online," he said.

Today, the Yalu River Valley production base of Ji'an has 20 wineries and more than 2,500 households engaged in Amur grape plantation, with an annual yield of 20,000 tonnes. The grapes are provided to local wineries, as well as famous domestic wine brands such as Zhang Yu and Great Wall.

From 2016, the city has held an ice wine festival every year, attracting tourists and wine connoisseurs alike.

"We plan to develop chateau tourism so that more consumers can enjoy the taste of sweet ice wine and the beauty of the Yalu River," winery operator Kong said. Enditem