China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TRAVEL -

An an­cient-look­ing build­ing clus­ter ap­pears be­fore us as we set foot in Xinghua­cun town in north­ern China’s Shanxi prov­ince. More than 100 im­pos­ing black-tiled build­ings stand close to each other and their roofs re­sem­ble a sea of stones stretch­ing out into the dis­tance.

They are build­ing repli­cas from the Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (16441911) dy­nas­ties.

The clus­ter cov­ers a floor space of 1.58 mil­lion square meters, the size of 10 Palace Mu­se­ums in Bei­jing. The wall sur­round­ing the clus­ter alone runs 10 kilo­me­ters.

The clus­ter is part of the Fen­jiu and lo­cal gov­ern­ment ef­forts to in­te­grate tourism with lo­cal wine cul­ture.

Xinghua­cun has been known for wine pro­duc­tion go­ing back 1,500 years. The famed Tang Dy­nasty poet Du Mu (803-852) made the town an ep­i­thet for good wine in his well­known poem The Mourn­ing Day.

To date, the town is home to the time-hon­ored wine­maker Fen­jiu, which spe­cial­izes in pro­duc­ing lightly scented liquor.

The clus­ter will fea­ture the whole process of wine mak­ing, from crop plant­ing and wine brew­ing, to stor­age, fill­ing and pack­ag­ing, as well as an ex­hi­bi­tion, says Zhang Xiao­jun, an in­vestor.

Zhang says that in­tro­duc­ing Xinghua­cun to the world will make Chi­nese liquor as pop­u­lar as global brands.

Fen­jiu is a tra­di­tional brand which wants to stay true to its tra­di­tions while at the same time keep­ing abreast of mod­ern de­vel­op­ments.

But as grand and at­trac­tive as Fen­jiu’s new con­glom­er­ate is, the tra­di­tional wine mak­ing process has been re­tained.

“Mod­ern tech­nol­ogy has not helped me a lot with my work,” says Wang Guangfeng, who has been the dis­tiller’s yeast maker for 30 years.

Most of Wang’s work is based on ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Peas and bar­ley (two of the ma­jor in­gre­di­ents) are from the In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Jilin and Gansu provinces, and they vary based on where they come from, so we need to fine-tune the ra­tio ac­cord­ingly”, the 52-year-old worker says.

Mix­ing wa­ter in also needs ex­pe­ri­ence. “You need to mon­i­tor the wa­ter speed to en­sure con­sis­tency,” he says.

But the hard work be­gins when it comes to mi­cro­bial which takes 26 days.

“First, you need to move the blocks of the com­pacted mix­ture into a room, wrap them with mats, and then in­ject them with the micro­organ­ism,” say Wang. cul­ti­va­tion,

Then, one re­lies on ex­pe­ri­ence to ad­just room tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity, in­clud­ing by open­ing or clos­ing win­dows and turn­ing over the blocks. No mod­ern ma­chine can help.

Wang says he is used to wak­ing up in the mid­dle of the night to check on the fer­men­ta­tion process.

“It’s like tak­ing care of a baby. But the yeast is the heart of the liquor. If it’s not prop­erly han­dled, the later process is a lost cause,” he says.

The main thing is for the mi­croor- gan­ism to spread on the sur­face like a thin layer of sesame.

When the 26 days is over, Wang takes a few days off be­fore the next round starts.

When asked if he gets bored with the work, Wang says the process never ceases to sur­prise him.

“The beauty is that ev­ery time is dif­fer­ent, and you can al­ways make bet­ter yeast than the pre­vi­ous one, and you feel pride when the yeast makes for bet­ter liquor.”

Say­ing good­bye to Wang, we make our way to the Fen­jiu mu­seum that has a his­tory of more than 800 years.

There, old wells, pavil­ions and work­shops tell the story.

Back in 1915, sorghum-based Fen­jiu first made waves abroad at the Panama-Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion in San Fran­cisco.

The expo helped hun­dreds of lo­cal small winer­ies show­case their prod­ucts.

At the mu­seum, rooms for re­tail sales, ac­coun­tants, man­agers, kitchens and wine stor­age fa­cil­i­ties have been main­tained the way they were in an­cient times.

There, one gets an in­sight in how the Chi­nese wine busi­ness was con­ducted.

Mean­while, Xu Fen­jun, who is in charge of liquor pro­duc­tion at Fen­jiu, says: “Fen­jiu might be the only win­ery that doesn’t have wa­ter pu­ri­fy­ing equip­ment.”

This is be­cause lo­cal wa­ter comes from Shanxi’s Pangquan’gou, which is sur­rounded by forests that cover an area of 6 mil­lion square meters. There, nat­u­ral per­me­ation pu­ri­fies the un­der­ground wa­ter, so it can be used with­out any treat­ment, says Xu.

Sep­a­rately, some liquor pro­duc­tion still goes on at the mu­seum. There, hun­dreds of black porce­lain vats are buried un­der­ground for fer­men­ta­tion.

“It (the process) is clean and keeps bac­te­ria away,” says Xu. More­over, the method also keeps the tem­per­a­ture from fluc­tu­at­ing too much.

Clean­ing the vats, how­ever, is heavy lift­ing. “First we have to use boil­ing wa­ter to clean the vat, but not the neck, be­cause the im­pu­ri­ties there could get in,” says Xu.

Later, the vat is turned up­side down, and the neck is cleaned. Then, Sichuan pep­per wa­ter is ap­plied

The time-hon­ored liquor brand is now look­ing to in­no­vate to en­dear it­self to the younger gen­er­a­tions.

Zhang Yan­guang, the Fen­jiu board sec­re­tary, says: “The liquor in­dus­try needs to sat­isfy young peo­ple’s needs.”

There’s room for in­no­va­tion in taste, pack­ag­ing, al­co­hol con­tent and de­sign, he says.

The brand is also work­ing with sport event or­ga­niz­ers and new me­dia to pro­mote it­self.

The ul­ti­mate goal is to cre­ate a taste for Chi­nese white spirit. And Zhang be­lieves that young peo­ple will even­tu­ally fall in love with tra­di­tional Chi­nese liquor as they learn more about it.


Fen­jiu’s new con­glom­er­ate in fu­ture.

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