Monday, October 4, 2010

2000 years of China wine history gone?

From what I can tell, wine was first recorded in China's northwest region of Xinjiang Province during the Han Dynasty, beginning about 200BC. That's when one of the emperors brought back both grape seeds and wine makers from the Middle East. While the Han emperor enjoyed the flavor of these wines, somehow the plants and techniques were not passed down.

That's why, when Zhang Bishi decided to build his own winery
–which he called Changyu Winery–in Yantai in 1892, he found only a few edible grapes in China. So he first brought 2,000 plants from the United States, but few bore fruit and were not sweet enough. Then half of those vines rotted before harvest. Being persistent fellow and a Chinese ambassador to other countries, he bought 640,000 more from Europe. Unfortunately these plants too found difficulty growing in China, with only 20 to 30% of them surviving.

Changyu's first winemakers. Check out the foreign influence.

In order to save his venture, Zhang Bishi brought back wild plants from northeast China that produced a bitter fruit but were hardy. They were grafted to the foreign vines and planted in the Shandong Province vineyards. The new vines survived, granting fruit rich in sugar with good color and were insect, disease, and cold resistant.

This is the main Changyu winery's huge factory-like facility.
Each of these Changyu factory winery fermenting tanks holds enough wine to fill a Southern California swimming pool.

All day long this beautiful Chinese woman imprints the Changyu logo on corks. My Chinese was not good enough to ask her if she counted her work.

Chinese wine security is tight in the Changyu cellar. These guys look as if they traveled the 2000-year Chinese time warp from the Han Dynasty. But they aren't as stoic as the British Royal Palace guards as I could get these Chinese guys to crack a smile. Just in case you were wondering, they are not allowed to drink on the job.

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