Wine Wine and more Wine
This past weekend, a few friends and I decided to hitch a ride on the slow train from Seoul to Yeongdong in Chungcheonbuk-do aboard the wine train. A wine train in Korea? You ask. Yes, it’s just that. The Chateau Mani Winery is nestled just outside this small town and that’s where we were headed. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The train pulled into the station and the last three cars were unlike the others ahead of them. They had massive “Wine Train” lettering decorating the exterior inviting anyone looking to get a little tipsy on their ride aboard. Our Korean leader rushed us on and pointed us to our seats. The windows were adorned with gold curtains hanging down. The seats were covered in red patterned velvet. The walls were painted in lavish decoration and wood paneling half way down. It felt like gaudy posh, something you’d expect to see the Siberian railways of past adorn with. Of course, we nestled right in and wondered what would come next, as if the decorations themselves weren’t enough. Our dear leader brought out sticky coasters so nothing can slide away and presented us with a dish of goodies: crackers, oranges and of course the Korean delight singles slices of cheese. A speaker came in and announced that we would be enjoying four different kinds of wine with our breakfast and we were to sip each and then upon completion decide which one we liked so that we could enjoy a full glass later. There were three reds and one white and as would be expected in Korea, or as I had expected, the red was not what you’d expect. Korean wine is usually sweeter more similar to the bokbunja that is made from the mountain berries of Korea and not grapes. So, I opted for the white as did my friends. Wine and conversation and two hours later we had arrived at the city of Yeongdong.
Yeongdong is a nice little city with persimmon trees lining the road. We learned that this is the only city in Korea where anyone can just walk up and pick the fruit and take it home. Apparently in the rest of Korea someone owns each tree so only those people have access to the fruit of their own tree. A short bus ride later we found ourselves at Chateau Mani Winery where we were invited to enjoy food inside. We were a little concerned to read the sign, “Wine and Slow Food” while entering. If it was really that slow it might put a damper on the day. But, alas the sign took our expectations low only to find inside a large buffet that would in fact be quite fast. We enjoyed more wine with lunch and then we were ushered across the parking lot to another building where we sat through something that seemed akin to an infomercial, but as it was all in Korean there’s no way to be sure. At one point the speaker did seem to notice that all of the people on the left side of the room were Koreans, and unbeknownst to us, all of the people on the right were foreigners, including a group of Japanese tourists we hadn’t yet noticed. After the speaking concluded we were ushered up to make bath soap. We had questioned how this had anything to do with wine only to find out after we had made our balls of soap they sprayed them with some wine. Ah, of course, there is a connection here. They then handed us towels and bath slippers and we took off our shoes and socks and rolled up our pants to enjoy a little wine foot bath. With the older women, ajummas, surrounding in the other baths gasping and oohing and aahing in delight there was no way not to enjoy this random experience in a winery. The wine was just hot enough to be soothing and not too hot to be scalded. We sat with 10 people dangling their feet in this wine trying to have a conversation with the two Koreans that ended up in a bath with eight foreigners.
After the bath was finished and we lotioned up our feet and legs we were taken to see the actual winery and wine caves as they say. They were dark and dank and what you would expect from a wine cellar that’s been hidden away for years, even though this one hasn’t been. Upon seeing them and reflecting I was pretty happy there was a wine foot bath and bathing soap ball party beforehand because the cellars definitely wouldn’t have been a highlight. After finishing up, just to be a little healthy, they took us to a section of the city famous for its ginseng. There is an entire street with ginseng shops; ginseng for eating, ginseng for smelling, friend ginseng, ginseng rice wine, ginseng, ginseng, ginseng of all sizes. I don’t know how anyone makes money because it looked like 30 of the same shop with different owners lining the street. Apparently letting us have a break from the wine and be a bit healthy they handed us ginseng makali, or ginseng rice wine and fried ginseng as an afternoon snack. We were taught to make ginseng sachets to hang in our house, though to be honest the smell of ginseng is not that attractive. The ginseng making teacher explicitly said NOT to use this particular ginseng in tea or anything else to be eaten, it is only for smelling and then she sent us on our way. Back to the train at 7 and everyone was feeling the day of wine. It would have been a good point to take a nap but our fearless leaders gave us a platter of mini sandwiches, kimbob, fruit and nuts and said it was all you can drink time and the wine just kept flowing. The ajummas were in the aisles dancing and singing with the guitarist they had hired to ride back with us. It was back and forth between English Frank Sinatra and Elton John renditions to Korean pop music which the women really enjoyed the most. We arrived back in Seoul at 10 and having ingested wine for just about 12 hours straight hit the sheets for some much needed rest. All in all it’s definitely an event that should be taken advantage of in Korea.