Drinkers no longer turn nose up at Korean wines
POPULAR wines in South Korea are mainly sourced from countries such as France, Italy and Spain, but recently, locally produced Korean wines have been carving out their own share of the market.
Korean vineyards started to venture into winemaking in the late 1990s and benefited from an unprecedented boom driven by the hit Japanese wine-themed comic The Drops Of God in the early 2000s.
Vineyards on the island of Daebudo on the west coast jumped into winemaking in 1998 using their well-known Campbell Early grapes.
Soon, other regions followed, including Yeongdong in North Chungcheong Province and Yeongcheon in North Gyeongsang Province.
Having joined the winemaking business in 2008, Yeongcheon, with 2,152ha of vineyards, is one of the latecomers on the wine scene.
The local city government of Yeongcheon encouraged and supported local vineyard owners to produce wines, establishing and funding a production facility and creating a brand called Ciel, which means sky in French.
"It started as a way for the local vineyards to survive.
"Grapes were being overproduced, which led prices to plummet, leaving farmers struggling with mounting losses," said Kang Ill Wook of the Yeongcheon Wine Business Center.
Today, the area boasts 18 wineries.
Last year, 270,000 bottles of red, white, rose and ice wines were produced in the region and the wineries reached combined sales of 3.5 billion won (S$4.3 million).
The Yeongcheon Wine Business Center is the hub of the area's burgeoning production.
The underground wine facility is always kept at 16 deg C to offer suitable conditions for local grapes to ferment and age.
"There are four things to avoid in winemaking - high temperatures, light, air and tremors," said Mr Kang.
"You don't want the wine to go through unnecessary fermentation and ageing."
The centre studies locally produced wines in an effort to improve their quality.
By ensuring balance in flavours and aromas, it attempts to overcome the prejudice that local wines are not on a par with imported types.
"As local wineries find it hard to store wines for many years, we store them here to study changing tastes and conditions each year," said Mr Kang.
The efforts are starting to bear fruit.
We Winery, a local vineyard with production facilities, won silver and gold medals at the Asia Wine Trophy competition in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Its 2011 red wine was selected from more than 2,600 kinds from 26 countries to bag silver in 2013.
Its 2013 white wine made with Kyoho grapes won gold in 2014.
"Winning the award has changed many people's perception of locally produced wines," said Park Jin Hwan, owner of We Winery.
"Wine experts used to say it's hard to make good wines using Korean grapes, which are low in both tannins and acidity.
"I proved them wrong."
THE KOREA HERALD/
ASIA NEWS NETWORK