Stomping grapes (pic: iStock)
China Wine

Winery worker dies in China’s Xige after inhaling toxic fumes

One winery worker at China's northwestern Xige Estate in Ningxia has died after inhaling toxic carbon dioxide during grape fermentation, the first known case reported by media in China's domestic wine industry.

One winery worker at China’s northwestern Xige Estate in Ningxia has died after inhaling toxic carbon dioxide during grape fermentation, the first known case reported by media in China’s domestic wine industry.

The tragic accident took place on October 31 when the winery worker inhaled deadly amount of the poisonous fumes produced by fermenting grapes inside a vat at the winery’s cellar.

Carbon dioxide is formed during the alcoholic fermentation of the grapes. Because it is 1.5 times heavier than air it sinks to floor level – the bottom of wine vats or in wine cellars. A concentration of just 8% is enough to kill a human being.

The gas is odorless and colorless, and it’s essential for wineries to be well equipped with sound ventilation system. Small acts of just opening widows and doors during fermentation can be lifesaving.

Fermenting grapes in tanks emit large amount of carbon dioxide. If the winery lacks proper ventilation systems, it will cause fainting, nausea to death. (pic: iStock)
Fermenting grapes in tanks emit large amount of carbon dioxide. If the winery lacks proper ventilation systems, the toxic gas will cause a series of reactions from fainting, nausea to death. (pic: iStock)

The accident prompted a harshly worded reprimand from local government to Xige, a RMB 300 million (US$45 million) winery which claims to have the most advanced winemaking facilities in China.

The warning notice issued on November 4 by Wuzhong government criticized Xige’s lack of understanding of work hazards in operating in limited space, and that the winery did not follow regulations to have proper equipment of protective gears and emergency tools.

“Safety education and training is not in place. Operators habitually work against the rules, and misguided rescue measures in emergencies resulted in casualties and other outstanding issues,” Wuzhong City Safety Production Committee Office chides the winery in the warning notice.

A winery worker at Xige died tragically after inhaling toxic fumes from fermentation, prompting a harshly worded reprimand from local government. (pic: Wuzhong City Saftey Production Committee Office)
A winery worker at Xige died tragically after inhaling toxic fumes from fermentation, prompting a harshly worded reprimand from local government. (pic: Wuzhong City Saftey Production Committee Office)

When reached by Vino Joy News, the winery says it has been conducting employee safety training long before the accident and characterized the accident as the worker’s “violation of winery operation regulations”.

However after showing the government warning notice which laid blame fairly and heavily on the winery’s lack of safety standards, the winery’s Layla Shi, who’s in charge of marketing and communications, said the winery is conducting examinations, and will strengthen safety training to prevent future incidents.

“We are very saddened by the accident. While we cooperate with the government’s investigation, we will also conduct a vigorous self-examination and further strengthen our safety awareness education and training,” she says.

The horrific accident also raises alarms to other operating Chinese wineries, and it is expected to reverberate among domestic wineries for safety checks as fermentation is underway after harvest.

Founded in 2017, Xige Estate prides itself as one of the most modern wineries in China after spending RMB 300 million on winemaking technologies and facilities imported from Europe and New Zealand.

Spanning 25,000 square meters, the winery is designed to produce 13 million bottles a year.

This is not the first case where winery workers died from inhaling the poisonous carbon dioxide fumes. In a freakish accident in October, a family of four in Italy lost their lives after inhaling carbon dioxide during fermentation.

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