The Northeast of China has been one of the earliest wine regions in China. The Changbaishan Winery founded in 1936 by the Japanese and Tonghua Winery were the earliest-established two wineries in China making wines with V. amurensis variety.
After the foundation of People’s Republic of China, more wineries were built in this region, and the total volume of wine exceeded 10, 000,000 liters by 1974. Huanren in Liaoning province has stood out for producing high-quality ice wines.
Climate and Grape Growing
This region consists specifically of the three provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang. It is separated from Far Eastern Russia to the north largely by the Amur, Argun and Ussuri rivers, from North Koreato the south by the Yalu River and Tumen River, and from the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region to the west by the Greater KhinganRange. To the east, north and west, it is covered by hills, and the central part is a vast plain with an altitude of 500-1200m. Vineyards are mainly planted along the foothills of Changbai Mountain, an active volcano on the China- North Korea border.
It has a monsoon-influenced, humid continental climate. Winter is extremely cold, with the lowest temperature reaching minus 30°C. Spring and Autumn are brief, as a result, the growing season is short with areas along Changbai Mountain having less than 120 days of frost-free period.
This region is characterized by soft, well-structured fertile chernozemic soils with good drainage, which preserves heat for the roots of vines.
Due to the extreme coldness, most Vitis Vinifera varieties can not ripen here. And the indigenous variety, V. Amurensis from Changbai Mountain, is the main variety grown here attributed to its excellent cold-resistance.
From 1973，hybridization between the cold-resistant V. Amurensis and Vitis Vinifera has been carried out, and several hybrids with high productivity and good quality fruits have been selected, among which Beibinghong, cultivated and promoted by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, has become known as the source of the best ice wine in the country. This variety is cold-resistant, and requires a short growing period to ripen.
Regions and Wine making
Tonghua (Chinese: 通化; pinyin: Tōnghuà) is located in the south of Jilin province. It borders North Korea to the south and southeast, Baishan to the east, Jilin City to the north, Liaoyuan to the northwest, and Liaoningprovince to the west and southwest. Most vineyards lie at the west foothills of Change Mountain.
It has a monsoon-influenced, humid continental climate, with long, very cold, windy, but dry winters and hot, humid summers. During the warmer months, rainfall is enhanced by the mountainous topography, allowing for a generous annual precipitation of 870 millimetres (34.3 in). However, the monsoon also means that more than 60% of the annual precipitation falls from June to August alone.
Influenced by the warm and humid air from the sea, protected from the cold wind by the mountains lying in the north, Tonghua is relatively warmer compared with other parts in Jilin Province. Amazingly, the cold-resistant V. Amurensis can survive the winter here without human intervention. V. Amurensis tend to be high in acidity, but low in sugar, which means extra sugar has to be added for wine fermentation. The history of winemaking with V. Amurensis in Tonghua can be dated back to almost 100 years ago.
Huanren（124°E，41°N）sits in the eastern Liaoning province, about 80 km (50 mi) to the southwest of Tonghua. Vineyards are located in the southern slopes of hills around the Huanlong lake, with an average altitude of 380m. This area is referred to as “ the Golden Ice Valley” and is famous for producing icewines.
It has a monsoon-influenced continental climate, with temperatures dropping to minus 8°C or even minus 20°C during the harvest in winter. Influenced by the Huanlong lake, this small area enjoys a cold and relatively humid microclimate, with an average annual humidity of 67.1%, which can encourage the fungus Botrytis cinerea to develop on the grapes. Sufficient sunshine in winter has guaranteed sunny dry afternoons, which slows the development of the rot and cause the water to evaporate from the grape, concentrating its acids, flavors and sugars. These are ideal conditions for producing icewines, which can almost be guaranteed every year.
Main varieties Vidal, Riesling and Cabernet Franc are planted on chernozemic soils. Vidal, which now accounts for more than 95% of the total vineyard area, was introduced from Canada from 2001 by the local government, which has been proved to perform very well in Huanren region. Riesling struggles to survive due to fungus diseases caused by the humidity. Cabernet Franc has also show great adaptability to the local terroir, and the fruit quality is improving year by year. Besides, Beibinghong (V. Amurensis) is also planted, though in small volume.
At the beginning of icewine production in Huanren, canes bearing fruits were cut off from the trunk and left on the trellises to freeze while the rest of the vines were buried in earth in November for protection from the extreme coldness.
However, this method had never been seen in other icewine producing regions. In order to produce ice wines in an internationally accepted way, wine institutions and academies have invented a ‘double-cane (or double vine) rotation pruning’ technique. This method allows the fruit-bearing cane to be left uncut and to die in the coldness naturally before the iced berries are harvested, while the other cane is buried in earth. This method has been proven successful in local vineyards.
Icewines of Huanren are fresh and fruity with lively acidity while elegantly balanced with the sweetness, and display aromas of sweet honey, dried apricot and peaches.