85s man inherits traditional yellow rice wine making
Qian Xiaobo, keeper of a winery in Taicang, checks whether a wine jar is properly sealed. [Photo/WeChat account: taicangdaily]
The days around the winter solstice, with their cool water and humid weather, are the best time to make yellow rice wines and are consequently the busiest time for wineries.
Opening brew vats one by one to check on the soaking rice and climbing a ladder to see whether the piled-up yellow rice wine jars are properly sealed: daily work for Qian Xiaobo, keeper of a winery in Taicang.
"My university major was numerical control and I only started to learn how to make yellow rice wine in 2011," the 85s' Qian said.
Although Qian switched to a completely new career in his 20s, he actually has a very close relationship to yellow rice wine as his wife's father and grandfather both produced it.
Workers at Qian's winery stir the rice with a stick to ensure even fermentation. [Photo/WeChat account: taicangdaily]
Having made up his mind to learn how to make the wine, the young man started to learn the skills from experienced craftsmen and even went to Wuxi, Suzhou, Shaoxing and other cities where renowned yellow rice wine makers assemble.
From soaking and steaming the rice and fermenting and squeezing it to boiling the wine to 90 degrees centigrade to kill any microorganism: Qian needed to learn all the steps from scratch.
Wooden buckets, earthen jars and brew vats -- these large traditional tools plus hours of pure physical labor did at first freak the young man out and worse still, there are only three or four hours to sleep during the busiest days.
"Considering many old masters still stick to the traditional craftsmanship, it would be shameful for a strong young man to quite the job and so I keep at it," Qian said.
The yellow rice wine made by Qian's winery. [Photo/WeChat account: taicangdaily]
After devoting himself to making the wine Qian grew from a green hand into a wine making master.
In Qian's eyes, every step of making yellow rice wines has so many sub-steps to be followed.
"For the simple step of soaking rice, specific operations are different depending on the raw materials and weather," Qian explained. "If the weather is a bit warm, it will take fewer days to soak the rice so as to control its acidity than on cooler days."
Yellow rice wine making in Taicang dates back to the reign of emperor Guangxu (1875-1908) in the Qing dynasty, but its production scale and market share still cannot compete with other yellow rice wine brands.
Qian suggested that to popularize the local yellow rice wine, traditional production processes and local features need to be preserved and more experience needs to be absorbed from other successful yellow rice wine makers.