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Great Wall Wine enjoys a global reputation with products sold all over the world

Food and beverage

Technology meets tradition

Great Wall Wine Yantai Co Ltd., one of the largest wineries in China, is combining the age-old art of winemaking with 21st-century technology to overhaul every step of its winemaking process in order to ensure it consistently produces wine of the highest quality.

Late September is harvest season and the busiest time at the Longshan vineyards in Yantai, Shandong, China. Grape pickers are spread out across the 1,270 hectares of land filling their 20-kilo baskets, some up to six times a day. Drivers deliver the grapes from morning until 2 o’clock the next morning.

The Longshan vineyards are run by the Great Wall Wine Yantai Winery, a division of the China Oil and Food Import and Export Corporation (COFCO). As China’s largest winemaker, Yantai produces 50,000 tons of red and white wine a year and sells its products all over the world.

Overseeing the vineyard’s operations is Zefu Li, chief engineer at Yantai. Li is excited about the Whole Industrial Chain Information System of Wine that the company implemented. At its core is the Simatic IT manufacturing execution system (MES). “With the help of Siemens digital technologies,” says Li, “we have standardized the overall production process management.” This step brings Yantai’s vision for enhancing the winemaking process from the soil to the bottle one step closer to reality.

The art and science of wine

Winemaking is a delicate and complex task. The quality of wine depends on the quality of grapes, which, in turn, depends on the weather, water, soil, geographic distribution, and even on the grower’s habits. Pressing, fermentation, aging, conversion, racking, testing, and bottling all involve complex (and sometimes customized) production processes.

Yantai does not leave the art of winemaking to chance. In addition to the MES, the company installed meteorological stations built by Siemens to collect data on soil nutrients and moisture. Field technicians use an app developed by Siemens to record the amount of pesticides the vineyard receives. Jianbo Liu, head of the IT department at Yantai Winery, explains, “the data allows us to make informed decisions about how to tend our vines in response to weather changes and pests. We can get a better grape harvest instead of relying solely on experience.”

More changes lie in store for Yantai. With the automatic uploading of entries, the MES can detect deviations on the field and send out alarms to help prevent crop damage. Real-time production data can be collected and compared with existing data to provide workers with clear step-by-step instructions.

Higher quality with fewer errors

Rather than recording data by hand and passing it down the production line, operators now scan bar codes on tanks and upload the information to the MES. “Operators do not need to go back and forth when they transfer the production order and data,” explains Li. “Data flows along the entire production chain and carries all the necessary information with it.” 

From fermentation to aging to racking – grapes go through at least ten steps before they become wine. Down the road, the MES will make it possible to check which employee used which tank for a specific step. “All that data gives us an accurate picture of the entire vineyard,” says Liu.

The future of viticulture

The winery expects to use more automation equipment in order to improve efficiency in the future. It is also working with Siemens to develop a consumer app. Customers will have access to information about grapes, fields, production methods, and types of oak barrels to better understand the wine and gain even more insight into the Yantai winery.

Li says, “It’s becoming a must for the wine industry to have a traceable industrial chain.” In keeping with its reputation as a benchmark in the Chinese wine industry, Yantai has gone above and beyond this by forging a path toward a promising and enticing future in viticulture.

Picture credits: Great Wall Wine Yantai Co. Ltd.