Ji'an city produces some of the best ice wine in the world, winning awards as far away as Belgium. Credit: Xinhua.

It’s known as liquid gold to producers, but most people just refer to it as ice wine.

The latter is a popular type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. In fact, for a wine to be designated as ice wine, the grapes must be picked at around -8 C.

When everything falls into place, as it should, ice wine is a superb drink that matches well with fine cuisine.

“Good wine is actually planted. We have to manually weed and also control the yield to ensure the quality of every grape,” said Jin Yinhao, 63, who operates a 17.3-hectare vineyard in the city of Ji’an, in northeastern Jilin province.

Jin, who has to wait another five months or so before his can be picked, says that the grape variety he grows could yield 22.5 metric tons a hectare, but the yield was deliberately limited to six tons, according to a report in China Daily.

The grapes are called beibinghong, a local variety of Amur grape that can ferment into ice wine with no need for skin maceration.

This variety was developed by experts from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in 2008, and Ji’an has since developed a complete ice wine industry chain that covers grape growing, processing, logistics and sales, China Daily reported.

The city 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 in 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 Yalu River Valley Amur Grape Wine Research and Development Center in Ji’an, China Daily reported.

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

According to Google, the first icewine (EisweIn) is believed to have been made in Germany in the late 1700s when freezing weather struck before the grape crop could be harvested. The winemaker persisted, harvesting and pressing the frozen grapes and fermenting the juice to a sweet wine.

A staffer introduces an ice wine to customers during the annual ice wine festival in Ji’an City, northeast China’s Jilin Province, Dec. 9, 2019. Credit: (Xinhua/Luo Yuan)

Sun said Ji’an produces high quality ice wine, with its output accounting for one-sixth of the world’s total.

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

“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, Ji’an wineries have won more than 36 prizes around the world, including at the international wine contest in Brussels, Belgium. Their midrange products are now sold for around 1,000 yuan (US$143) a bottle, China Daily reported.

Farmer Sun Lianbo from Qingshi township grew grapes for 30 years before learning how to make ice wine from the R & D center. Now, he sells his homemade ice wine online.

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

Ji’an is now home to 20 wineries and more than 2,500 households are engaged in the growing of Amur grapes, with an annual yield of 20,000 tons, China Daily reported. The grapes are provided to local wineries, as well as famous domestic wine brands such as Zhang Yu and Great Wall.