Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Korean grape and wine varietals

Many people erroneously believe that grapes are grown everywhere except Asia. Nothing could be further from the truth. Historical records indicate grape cultivation in Korea goes as far back as the 14th century, during the Koryo dynasty, when people drank Podoju (포도주) which is a rice wine mixed with Korean grapes. In more recent times, Korean celebrities such as actor Bae Yong Joon (BYJ) and Korean pop entrepreneur Soo-Man Lee (founder of Seoul-based S M Entertainment) have made it publicly known they consider themselves oenophiles (wine lovers). BYJ's purchase of the Korean TV rights to the popular Japanese manga, Drops of God, was inspired in part by his personal passion for wine. Even though the grape cultivation in Korea goes all the way back to Koryo dynasty, grape wine did not start gaining a foothold in Korea until the turn of the last century. I wonder if the Japanese occupation delayed Korea's development as a wine growing region?
...Modern viticulture began around 1906 when an experimental station was established to test imported cultivars. The wine industry began in 1910 in Kyongbuk Province. Some cultivars for wine were imported from USA, Europe, and Japan. These have been grown throughout the country since 1960...
Korea does have some indigenous grape varieties but according to Gi-Cheol Song
...wild species of grapes like Vitis amurensis and Vitis coignetiae found in the Republic of Korea are not commercially important species.
They say the average South Korean drinks about half a liter of wine a year, but this trend is growing, especially among Korea's younger generation. Doosan, a large Korean chaebol, makes Majuang wine, which is a blend of Korean grapes with European or New World varietals. Doosan supplies 200,000 bottles of Majuang wine per year for use in Catholic masses throughout Korea. Doosan has supplied sacramental wine to the Catholic Church in Korea for over 30 years. Majuang is not a luxury wine and it will not compete with Opus One or some of the other snooty, pretentious wines on the market. It is marketed straight to the middle and working class, most bottles selling for less than $10 a bottle. Napa and Sonoma Counties are not the only two counties producing wine in California. The American winery that supplies Doosan with a lot of wine to make their blends is Ironstone Vineyards. The winery is located in Calaveras County, in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Ironstone Vineyards is the largest American exporter of wine to Korea thanks to its partnership with Doosan. I tried to find markets selling Majuang wine for the American market but to no avail at this point. Most of the Korean winemakers do not make enough cases for the export market. For now, Ironstone Vineyards might be the closest one can get to buying Korean wine.

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