I love wine. I mean really, who doesn’t? So, when I discovered that there was a winery in Korea – on the outskirts of Daegu – that produced a speciality wine from persimmon fruit, I had to try it. My expectations were low though, as I’ve toured some of the best wineries in the world from Marlborough, New Zealand to Stellenbosch, South Africa. Still, I love a new adventure. So one unplanned Saturday, I set off for a day trip to Cheongdo. What ensued was a very spontaneous but fun day out tasting persimmon wine and watching bull fighting. Definitely worth the half hour journey from Dongdaegu train station.
Gam Wine Tunnel
If you have been in Korea long, especially during the Autumn, then you’ve probably come across a Gam tree laden with persimmons. Deep blood orange in color, the fruit either looks like a squashed tomato or a lopsided acorn, depending on the variety. Although persimmons are common throughout the country, Cheongdo is well-known for producing a squat, round, seedless variety called the Cheongdo bansi. These persimmons have a higher sugar content than other species, which makes it a natural choice for wine production.
Whilst the fruit was brought to Korea over 1,000 years ago from China, the use of persimmons in wine-making has a relatively short history. In fact, Cheongdo Gam Wine touts itself as the first producer in the world to commercially make wine from persimmons, which only first hit the markets in March 2004. Using the traditional production process, the local persimmons are first crushed and then pressed before a special enzyme is added to the fermenting process. The alcohol content is naturally produced through the ageing process which takes place in the disused railway tunnel.
The tunnel was completed in 1904, but abandoned in 1937. Cheongdo Gam Wine reinforced the ceiling of the tunnel with red clay bricks and converted it into an ageing facility in 2006. The tunnel now stays at a constant 15 degrees Celsius and has 60-70% humidity which provides perfect conditions for fermenting persimmon wine. It is now known at the Gam Wine Tunnel.
The tunnel itself is about 1,000metres long and houses thousands of bottles. On entering the tunnel you will find a small store where you can purchase some of the local wine and other products. Further in there is picnic table style setting and a small cafe where you can conduct your wine tasting. The far end of the tunnel requires an entrance fee of 2,000W. In this area, you can view a small art gallery and some of the bottles of wine ageing on racks.
There are three wines available to taste. The Regular Gamgrin is a dry white wine with a gold colour and rich tannin. The Special Gamgrin is aged for more than four years and is a sweet full bodied wine with a dark orange colour. Interestingly, they also produce an Ice Wine, which is akin to a dessert wine with notes of honey. The Ice Wine was very pricey at 20,000W per glass to taste (compared to the others at 4,000W), but was delicious. Whilst the three varieties I tasted were not the best I have ever had, I enjoyed trying a very unique wine that I couldn’t get anywhere else in the world.
Not far from the wine tunnel you’ll find the Cheongdo Bull Fighting Arena. It wasn’t my intent to watch bullfighting on a Saturday afternoon, but as I was in the area, I thought I’d give it a go. Admittedly, I was concerned about seeing a bloody battle between two 600kg beasts and usually avoid any type of event that would be cruel to animals.
Fortunately, Korean bullfighting has nothing in common with the violent spectacles that take place in Spain. There are no matadors and no goring. The animals aren’t tormented or killed. In fact, the whole show is rather sedate and dare I say comical. The competition starts with the judges entering the bovine battleground, bowing to the audience and taking their places. Then the two bulls are lead into the ring by their trainers. Some jeering from the handlers ensues whilst they try to get the bulls to lock horns. Once engaged, the battle commences. The two bulls then simply butt heads for a while and use their force to push each other around. There is a bit of snorting and scraping of the dirt, but not the fierce clash I’d expected.The match is over when one of the combatants surrenders or simply turns and lumbers off.
In the last match we watched, the bulls were disinterested in fighting and took several minutes to interlock horns. However, as soon as they engaged, they unlocked again and stood looking at each other passively and occasionally licking each other. The crowd chuckled. Eventually, they did manage a tame bout that lasted a few minutes.
To make the viewing more interesting, you can place small bets. The minimum is just 100W and the maximum is 100,000W. It’s free to enter and there is also a museum that displays the history of bullfighting in the region next door.
So, if you are looking for a unique day out of town, then I’d highly recommend a jaunt to Cheongdo.
Take one of the regularly departing trains from Dongdaegu Station to Cheongdo (20 minutes/4,500W one way). From the station, either catch a taxi (20 minutes/15,000won) or the intercity bus (Terminal located on the opposite side of Cheongdo Station. Take the bus bound for Songgeum-ri (송금리). (Departs 10 times a day / 07:00, 07:50, 09:40, 11:20, 13:20, 14:50, 16:00, 18:00, 19:20, 20:20).
Gam Wine Tunnel: Weekdays & National Holidays 09:30-20:00/ Weekends 09:30-21:00. www.gamwine.com
Cheongdo Bull Fighting: Saturdays & Sundays 11:00- 16:30. www.sossaum.or.kr/main.do