Myanmar winery a drop in the tourist bucket

It once was Burma. Now it is Myanmar.

It once had no vineyards. Now it has one.

The southeast Asian nation's first such enterprise, started by a German entrepreneur in 2004, now is producing reds, whites and roses at the Aythaya estate. That in itself is news since foreign investment in the military-governed nation is rare. And, when such an enterprise takes hold and even has the potential to lure tourists, even a mere handful, it is even bigger news.

Bert Morsbach, interviewed by the Associated Press, said, "Had I not been convinced that we can make a quality wine up in our mountains, I would not have started the project. ... That was a gamble, I must admit, but so far the government has been very cooperative and it looks as if this is going to stay that way."

Morsbach imported vines from France, Germany and Italy and planted them in the hills, seen above, above Inle Lake of in eastern Myanmar. He and chief winemaker Hans Leiendecker say growing conditions on their 23.5-acre vineyard are excellent, with the limestone soil similar to that of Tuscany and southern France and a climate similar to California's wine country.

"A huge asset in our favor: 150 days of sunshine," Morsbach said.

Their wines have been getting positive reviews, the best of them for a rose made from the Italian Moscato grape, which is the winery's top seller.

Production was a mere 20,000 bottles as recently as 2004, most of which have been snapped up by tourists as a curiosity, but has been ramped up to 100,000 bottles this year. Additional grapes will be grown by contract farmers.

Morsbach, 69, who plans to retire in Myanmar, said he and some investors have put $1.5 million into the project, are expanding tourist facilities at the winery which already includes five guest rooms, a restaurant and swimming pool, and have rebuilt an abandoned Buddhist orphanage adjacent to the vineyard and are supporting more than 80 orphans there.

CIA World Factbook: Myanmar
An Introduction to Myanmar
Official Government Web Site

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