Unsuprisingly, wine on my travels has habitually been a disappointment. At best, it was over-priced, ozzie blockbusters, with a tendancy to have been badly stored and horribly old. At worst, it is home-made rice wine in plastic bottles with tarantualars floating in it. But I havent been here for the wine and have instead finally trained myself to drink the local brew of beer when alcohol is required (!)
However, when we sat down to a delcious local meal in the hills in Kalaw, a drinks list was produced with ‘Local Myanmar Wine’ offered. Naughtily cynical, I bought a glass of ‘Red Mountain’ muscat and tried it – and was very surprised; it was good. 2 days later we made our way up to the winery to find out more.
The winery sits above Lake Inle, in a stunning location overlooking the generous valley and beautiful lake. The heavy clay soils with limestone underneath were found to be perfect to grow vines on, despite Burma never having had a history of wine production. The current winemaker, Francois Raynal, was originally trained in Bordeaux but had spent time in the New World and Hungary (making Tokaji) before hearding out to Myanmar and working on the neighbouring Aythaya vineyard.
The result is a winemaker with a classical training but an open mind. His Hungarian training has lead to him creating a few barrels of Tokaji for the first time in 2011, which were already tasting great. His Pinot Noir and Shiraz Tempranillo were excellent and his whites – especially a Chardonnay that was still in barrel, was a definite Chablis contender. The wines had clearly benefitted from the cool nights and warm sunny days afforded to them by their position, and were full of flavour and elegance.
Interestingly, the main problem that Francois faces is that the vines continue to grow all year around, as there is no cold season to ‘shut them down.’ He therefore does a harsh pruning in October to ‘reset the vine’ and uses chemicals to stimulate the beginning of the growing season. This is done in a very short space of time (usually a week for 50 odd hectares) as the vines mature very much at the same speed and Fancois is keen that all the grapes of a particular varietal should be harvested together – at the end of Feb / early March.
Digging around in his underground cellar, you can see bottles of Malbec, Gewurz and other varietals being tested. He makes a point of experimenting: everything is new to Myanmar so it is worth testing more to see what happens.
The wines are popular, and demand is high. If the size of the wine library is anything to go by, very little wine is held back. In fact, Red Mountain are dramatically increasing production and hope to sell the wine beyond Burmese shores where it is currently being snapped up by hotels and any restaurants catering for thirsty tourists (the locals prefer beer and tea.)
It was great to meet Francois and while my enthusiasm for the wines may be a little indulged by the complete absence of drinkable wine over the last 4 months, I can honestly say I loved what he was doing and wish them the greatest of luck. I hope that Burmese wine takes South East Asia by storm.