I spent my last afternoon in Inlé Lake visiting one of the two vineyards in Myanmar, a short drive east of Nyaung Shwe. I was surprised at first that grapes can be grown here, but actually the climate in the dry season (October to March) is similar to parts of France, with warm days, cool nights, little rain and not too much humidity.
Red Mountain Winery is owned by a wealthy Burmese businessman and was first planted in 2003 under the direction of a French expert winemaker called Francois. As this was very much uncharted territory, they spent a few years working out which varieties suit the environment best, and commercial production began in 2007. They currently produce around 200,000 bottles a year, catering almost exclusively to foreign tourists in the local area – their costs are too high to compete on an international or even national level, and Burmese people by and large can’t afford to buy it. The processing and bottling is fully automated, with machinery bought in Italy. Corks come from Portugal, barrels from Hungary, and bottles from China, so it’s no wonder their costs are high.
My knowledge about wine is more or less limited to ‘that one’s white’, so unfortunately I can’t really provide a proper review on the wine itself. But the better ones (in my opinion) were the sweeter whites and lighter reds, and they had a good selection of late seasons which were very nice. We watched the sun set over the lake from our table and I could have been in France – they even had one of those old carts with a barrel on it for decoration.
That evening we had our farewell dinner with our guide Kyaw and the tour group in a tiny, outdoor, traditional restaurant which served us a selection of curries, salads and stir-fries that I’d been enjoying throughout the whole trip. After the meal Kyaw gave us each a little Burmese gift – I got a little umbrella from the workshop we’d been to, which is completely gorgeous. Kyaw was a very knowledgeable and friendly guide, who was always keen to inform us about culture, politics, education and everyday life in Myanmar. After learning English, he became a licensed tour guide in 1998, a decade or more before most foreign tourists were able to visit the country. It just goes to show his dedication and passion for sharing his country with visitors, and I am very grateful.