My Opinion On Vietnam Wine Tours – Denis Gastin
I have been to Vietnam six times and my first visit was in 1990. On several of these trips I have attempted to get some tangible assessments of the emerging Vietnam wine industry – on each occasion through a personal contact and with limited success.
But, on this trip, a program was put together for me personally by Vietnam Wine Tours and it worked wonderfully. I was able to not only visit three established wineries and assess their winemaking, but also to get a first-hand understanding of the traditional viticultural practices and, most importantly for me, the challenges being addressed by the wineries that are trying to pull the industry forward to meet international standards with the more recently introduced classic European grape varieties.
One obstacle for a visitor with these intentions is that the largest modern winemaking operations are on the outskirts of Dalat, in the Central Highlands but, surprisingly, the vineyards are 150 to 200 kms away on the coastal plains in Ninh Thuan Province. But Vietnam Wine Tours had this covered.
The tour began at Ladora Winery, in Dalat, owned by one of Vietnam’s large integrated food processing companies, Lado Foods. It is being modernised progressively and, in a few months, will have a very attractive cellar door facility for visitors. It has moved beyond the traditional model of, basically, low-priced fruit wine, including from grapes. It now has a range of premium grape wines based on Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc plantings in its vineyards in Ninh Thuan – which I was able to visit and assess first hand.
And, I must say, that the couple of days I had in Dalat – known as “Little Paris” and “the City of Flowers”- were an absolute delight. There is so much to see: the French colonial remnants are so attractive and interesting, there is so much else to see in this modernising city and it is very comfortable to get around, especially on foot.
And then the drive down to the coastal region to see the vineyards was another bonus. The peaks reach as high as 1500 metres and the slopes descend very steeply through intriguing winding valleys filled with enclosed horticultural farms growing vegetables and flowers and, as you descend further, tea and coffee plantations. These are the major industries of the region.
On the way down our first stop was the Ladora Winery Vineyard, 130 km from the winery. Then we drove on to the coast and spent the night at the Long Thuan beach resort in Ninh Chu.
The next day we visited two local, very small scale wineries that are progressively modernising, moving on from fruit wines and making grape wines from revitalised vineyards. The Cardinal grape variety has been the main resource for local winemakers but the Ba Moi Winery Farm has, over the past five years, added Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is also working with two varieties known locally as NH.01.48 and NH.01.152 that are almost certainly the
Malaga Blanc and Black Queen that are commonly grown in similar conditions in Thailand.
At My Hoa, grapes have been grown for 20 years. Cardinal is still the main variety for the grape wine but NH.01.48 is also now grown in its 2 ha vineyard.
When all the inspections were done, we headed back to Dalat, stayed overnight, and caught a flight out to Bangkok the next day. Over the 3 days on the road we covered just under 300km.
The arrangements made for the tour by Vietnam Wine Tours were first class, and at a very reasonable total cost. It began with two days in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and a tour of special local attractions with the very careful and thoughtful attention of our tour guide,Mr. Phuc Nguyen and Mr. Hung Hoang – one of the most informative tour guides I have encountered anywhere.
Likewise, our four days in Dalat and Ninh Thuan were made extra informative and very comfortable by our tour guide, Mr Hung Hoang at the wineries and vineyards he was able to extract answers to unusual questions from the visitor and convincingly explain the background to each operation. He also ensured that the longer distance legs were comfortable and made sure we saw astounding local attractions like the pagodas, towers and other historical buildings.
I came away with a much more comprehensive understanding of the emerging wine industry and was given, via the tour guides and the journeys they chose, a very relaxing and informative appreciation of contemporary Vietnam – the stunning scenery, the fascinating history and the colourful lifestyle of Vietnam today.