Wine tourism in Vietnam
We don't immediately think about Vietnam when it comes to wine and wine tourism. However, there is a small wine production in this Southeast Asian country, where I travelled for the third time at the end of 2022. This trip allowed me to visit an area that I wanted to discover for a while: the place where Vietnamese wines and grapes are produced. In fact, two distinct areas, as the wines are made in the same region as the one where the grapes are grown. I already wrote an article about wine production in Vietnam - you'll find the link below, if you want to learn more about what is produced in this country - so in this article, I will focus on wine tourism and on the wine experiences you'll be able to have in that region.
Dalat, the city of eternal spring and Vietnamese wine
Let's start with the end of the production process! I will first take you to Dalat (Đà Lạt in Vietnamese), the city where the country's wines are made. Dalat is a former health resort founded by the French in the 1880s, during the colonial era. They spent time in Dalat to enjoy the cool temperatures and to escape the humid and stifling heat of the coastal regions. In Dalat, which is nicknamed the city of eternal spring, the climate is always cool ( but everything is relative, the Vietnamese cool temperatures correspond more to a pleasant heat for a European - let's not forget that Dalat is located at 11 degrees north latitude , so close to the equator). The reason: the city is located at an altitude of 1700 meters. Growing grapes is not possible here, as it is too cool and the fruit would not ripen. On the other hand, the conditions are optimal for vinification and wine aging, while most Vietnamese regions have temperatures that are too high. The grapes are therefore transported by truck from the coast, where they are grown, to Dalat. Some wines made with European grape varieties are even made with grapes grown in France and imported to Vietnam - not very eco-friendly, you might think...
Dalat Beco and Ladora, the two major wine producers in Vietnam
The surface area planted with grapes in Vietnam is about 3,000 hectares. Most of it belong to two wineries:
- Ladora Winery revived wine production in Vietnam - which had stopped in 1975, when the south of the country fell into the hands of the Communists - by replanting vinestocks in 1998 and producing their first wine in 1999. The winery produces more than 2.5 million bottles a year.
- Dalat Beco, founded in 2000 and headquartered near Dalat, produces 900,000 bottles of wine per year. This winery sources its grapes exclusively from farmers in theregion of Ninh Thuan, located by the sea, 130 km from Dalat.
Visit of a winery: Vinh Tien
I took advantage of a day spent touring the surroundings of Dalat on a motorbike, accompanied by a guide, to make a stop at a winery whose address I had found on the internet. Beautiful brick
buildings house the technical facilities, which I unfortunately was not allowed to visit - my guide asked the security guard at the entrance if the visit was possible, but the buildings are not
open to the public, for questions of hygiene, he was told. In a large tasting room, several formulas allow you to taste the wines of the estate. I opted for the tasting of 3 wines... and I was
very disappointed. Quite frankly, these were the worst wines I was given to taste during my various stays in Vietnam (all the other wines had been tasted in restaurants - Youll find more
information about them in the article 'WIne production in Vietnam'). I tried a Sauvignon Blanc, whose varietal characteristics did not express at all in the wine (I suspect the wine has been aged
in old barrels, that gave it a stale and unpleasant taste); then a wine made with Syrah, quite sweet - very confusing, and not very good to tell you the truth; and to finish an off-dry wine made
with Cardinal, that had a tawny color and was quite sickening. However, I do not regret this visit, it was worth a look, and as few wineries are open to the public, it was one of the rare
opportunities that presented itself.
By the way, do you know how to say 'wine' in Vietnamese? It's written on the bottle in the picture! Vang is the phonetic transcription of 'vin'. Đỏ means red, while vang trắng means white wine. The term rượu, which refers to alcohol in general, is also often used.
Phan Rang, where the grapes are grown
Phan Rang is a coastal city located in the province of Ninh Thuan, about 130 km and 2 and half hour's drive from Dalat. It is around this city that the Vietnamese vineyard is planted. Table grapes are grown there, which in some cases are also used to make wine. This is the case with Cardinal, a variety developed in California in 1939. It has good yields, gives very sweet grapes that withstand transport quite well. It is used to produce small volumes of white wine, but mostly red wines. The problem is that it lacks anthocyanins (i.e. the pigments of red grapes), which gives very pale wines. Therefore the Vietnamese add blackberry juice - the fruit of the mulberry tree, grown in the Dalat region and whose leaves are used to feed the silkworms bred in the region - to tint the wine. This is a very special beverage, which gives various qualities of wine. Cardinal is also sometimes blended with Syrah.
Vines planted in pergola
The possibility to visit the vineyard - which is called vườn nho in Vietnamese, literally garden (vườn) of grapes (nho) - of Phan Rang was made possible thanks to Minh
and Tam, a couple in their thirties who organise tours in the region for foreign and Vietnamese tourists. We left Phan Rang by motorbike and after a 20 minutes's drive, we started seeing the
first vineyards. How amazing! They are surrounded by small mountains and the vines are planted in pergolas. The landscapes are therefore very different from what we know in Europe.
In addition to Cardinal, Japanese grapes and French grapes are grown here. I was them but was not able to find out more about the specific grape varieties. Some vines are apparently cultivated in the European style, in particular for the production intended for the two large wineries mentioned above, but I have not had the opportunity to see them, except in photos. The sub-tropical climate of the region means that the vines do not experience a dormant period and give, depending on the grape variety, between 2 and 4 crops a year. The life expectancy of a vine is therefore greatly reduced, generally reaching a maximum of 15 years.
Visit and wine tasting at a winery
When we saw the first vines, Minh offered me to stop on a plot where we had spotted some grapes. We were immediately welcomed by a young man, the owner with his parents of a family estate of barely 2 hectares. Part of the grapes is used on site for family production. We were able to see the 'barrels' - actually plastic containers (photo below) - in which the grape juice was fermenting. A small part of the grapes is sold to wineries in Dalat. What we were able to taste, sitting in small plastic chairs in the shade of the vines, has nothing to do with what is produced in Europe. I was able to taste two wines, a rosé and a red, which were more like fermenting must. Many wineries also produce and sell concentrated grape juice (mật nho). Here the owner had us taste it as a cocktail with kumquat juice and ice cubes: it was delicious!
Apart from wine tourism, what to do in Dalat and Phan Rang?
In Dalat, walk in the footsteps of the French
The architecture of Dalat is influcenced by the French colonial past of the city. I enjoyed walking around the city to discover the old colonial houses and villas. Some are unfortunately in poor condition, others are still inhabited and show influences from Normandy, the Basque Country, the Alps... Visitors are sometimes confronted with views that seem familiar and they almost forget that they are on the other side of the world... it's a bit confusing. The lake located at the heart of the city gives it a false air of Bagnolles de l'Orne. Several local travel agencies offer motorcycle tours in the city and the surrounding countryside. A rich experience to live absolutely, as the region is very different from the rest of Vietnam. These tours allow to discover agriculture and horticulture in the surrounding countryside, temples and pagodas, superb waterfalls, villages inhabited by ethnic minorities...
In Phan Rang, discover the coast and the Cham culture
Phan Rang has many tourist assets, but in spite of this, the region is not very touristy. I haven't seen many Vietnamese or foreign tourists when I was there, which is great when you want to get off the beaten track! If you like beautiful sandy beaches, you are in the right place: Phan Rang is a seaside resort, which actually hosts the international kitesurfing championships every year. A stone's throw from the city, you can hike in a magnificent national park, have lunch in a fishing village built along a magnificent bay... Near the city center, you can visit the ruins of a Cham temple. Phan Rang was once the capital of the Champa kingdom. Ttoday the Cham are one of the 54 ethnic minorities that inhabit Vietnam. If you speak English and wish to use the services of a local travel agency, I suggest you contact Minh and Tam of Phan Rang Explorer, who will be able to help you discover the remarkable sites of their region and introduce you to the local gastronomy. They took me to quite a few small restaurants to taste the specialties of the region that were all delicious!