When we think about great wine producing regions, one of the last places that pops to mind in Asia.
The climate, the market and the use of land do not seem to fit in with what one may consider good wine making requirements.
However over the years, wines have been produced in Thailand and in Vietnam, as well as Cambodia and China.
The quality of the wine varies.
Whilst some vineyards are making inroads into foreign markets, most of what is being produced in Asia is also being consumed in Asia.
The Chinese population, now cash rich and keen to impress, will happily spend top dollar on French wines. They will also buy something a little more reasonably priced to plonk down at the table with friends.
Australian and American wine producers have waded into that market in order to secure the ‘drinking for pleasure’ rather than ‘drinking for status’ clientele.
As the wine drinkers of China have become more sophisticated, so has their palate. Bad wine is still available in China, but the consumers are not as unworldly as they once were.
The market in China is worth up to 9 Billion USD a year, which sounds like a huge amount of money, and it is, but remember, there are 1.3 Billion Chinese, and a vast majority of that number enjoy a tipple.
China also grows its own wine, so to speak.
The major wine producing areas of China include Shandong, Hebei, Henan, Liaoning and Xinjiang provinces. Local wine brand Chanyu is produced in Shandong province and Dragon Seal and Great Wall, two other major brands, are produced in Hebei province.
You would think that a place like Thailand would be too hot to produce grapes good enough to use in wine production, but that it not the case. Thailand’s climate means the vines grow splendidly all year round. The down side to that is that the plants never get a chance to recover and regroup, so the soil needs to be well fertilized to keep the vines healthy.
Thailand has a wide range of grape and wine operations with operations in the North near Chiang Rai, in Loei (where Thailand’s wine industry started), in the Khao Yai region near Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park and in areas South of Bangkok where Siam Winery has operations in Samut Sakorn and near Hua Hin.
There is also wine coming out of Vietnam in the Dalat region as well as Ninh Thuan and elsewhere.
Vietnamese wine has some French influence, but in terms of consistency, it has a little way to go.
One of the problems for Vietnamese wines is transportation. Often good wine will be left out in the sun, and not stored properly. By the time it is opened, the wine itself has degraded and is less ‘delightful for quaffing’ and more ‘Hmm, distinctly vinegar’.
In Laos, there is one new small wine producing company looking at production on the Plain of Jars and another Thai based group looking at a much larger operation in the area around Pakse in the South of Laos and in Cambodia there is also a small vineyard just across its border with Thailand. Myanmar (Burma) is also producing wine for the local market, and there are growing operations at higher elevations around Inya Lake which are run by both a German and a French group.
It may be a few years yet before we see Asian wines taking the place of more traditional producers, but reasonably tasty attempts are being made, and in time, we may be enjoying the delights of Asia in a wine glass, as well as on the plate.