Step into the New World: Exploring the Vineyards of Vietnam

When one thinks of fine wine, admittedly, Vietnam isn’t exactly the first country that springs to mind. The country is known more for its fruit wines than for its grape-based liquor. But there’s a change looming in the horizon, and in a few years, proponents of the ‘wine lifestyle’ may just start seeing the scenic Southeast Asian country in a new light.

Having been under French colonial rule for almost a century, it’s not surprising that Vietnam has inherited the French’s love for good food and fine wine. In fact, despite attaining independence from France in the 1950s, a visit to Vietnam will show you the vast influences the French has had on local cuisine. While the country has a flourishing domestic wine market, the international wine community is beginning to recognize Vietnam’s potential when it comes to exporting premium-quality alcohol.

The Birth of Vietnam’s Winemaking Industry

Prior to the country’s French colonization, Vietnamese people have already been growing grapevines for shade and ornamental purposes for hundreds of years. These local grapes, however, often produced a sour taste that was not fit for winemaking.  This was something the French settlers discovered when they arrived in Vietnam in the 1850s.

To remedy the situation, they began planting the country’s first vineyards using cuttings from French vines. But the settlers stumbled upon another setback. Apparently, the region, which was known as French Indochina, had a tropical climate and high humidity that was ill-suited for vine growing. Undeterred, the French turned to the highlands near Hanoi, in the Ba Vi mountain range. However, due to low yield, the settlers abandoned earlier plans of making grape wines and focused on the production of other fruit liquors instead.

What really changed the country’s viticultural landscape was the arrival of flying winemakers in the late 20th century. Through aggressive pruning and the use of pergolas trellising, these vignerons were able to elevate the grapevines to a level that reduced humidity, thereby preventing mildew growth.

In 1995, Vietnam entered a partnership with Australian winemakers in a bid to reintroduce foreign grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to the region. Employing modern winemaking techniques and aggressive replanting tactics, the country was able kick-start its wine production.

Geography: The Secret to Vietnam’s Success

Vietnam’s hilly topography creates microclimates that enable the growth of various grape varieties. In addition, major bodies of water such as the Gulf of Tonkin, Mekong, and the Red River provide a predictable environment that allows grape harvest at least three times a year.

Today, you will find most of the country’s vineyards in the Ba Vi mountain range and the highlands near the Annamite Range, Phang Rang, and Nihn Thuan.

Alcohol Consumption in Vietnamese Culture

As is the case with its neighboring countries, alcohol consumption was a traditionally male activity in Vietnam. However, with the increasing number of young Vietnamese working abroad, wine drinking has turned into an equal-gender affair. And with the health benefits this particular tipple brings, grape wine is emerging as the better alternative to other forms of alcohol in the country.

A Closer Look at Vietnam’s Wine Production

Due to the large number of locally grown fruits in the region, the wine market is still divided between grape and fruit wines. But recently, a local type of grape wine called Vang Dalat (Dalat red wine) has become very popular with the locals because of its exquisite taste and relative affordability. Cardinal and Chambourcin are also not far behind, as they remain the most-planted grape varieties in this Southeast Asian country.

As of 2013, the country already has 15 known wine producers. These wineries have an aggregate production capacity of two million liters annually. Vietnam’s largest winemaker, the Da Lat winery, has also shown the ability to penetrate the lower segments of the country.

Meanwhile, British and Australian wine companies have started partnerships with local businesses. This move bodes well for Vietnam, especially if its local vineyards intend to export wine in the future.  

Major Local Wine Producers

The following are some of the country’s major wine producers.

Halico—Halico, also known as the Hanoi Liquor Company, is one of the top producers of wine and spirits in Vietnam. It currently controls 41% of the local liquor market. Right now, the company is focused on producing light grape and sparkling wines, but it also has plans to expand its vine area to allow for a better entry in the lucrative wine market.

Ladofoods—Also known as Lamdong Foodstuffs JSC, Ladofoods is famous for selling the widely popular Dalat Red Wines and Dalat White Wines. The company uses French and Italian winemaking technologies and techniques to make sure it meets international standards in liquor production and wine storage.

Thang Long Liquor Company—This organization is one of the largest producers and distributors of wine in Vietnam today. Its main manufacturing facility is currently located in the Nihn Thuan province. Just like any other big conglomerate, Thang Long Liquor has presence all over the northern and southern regions of the country.

Popular Wines Consumed in Vietnam

Vietnam may be new to wine production compared to other countries in Europe and the Americas, but what it lacks in experience, it makes up for in ingenuity when it comes to its wine selection. The following is a list of some of the country’s most popular grape wines.

  1. Vang Dalat (Red Wine) – Made using a hearty blend of crushed red grapes and fermented mulberry juice, the Vang Dalat red wine is one of the more well-known local wines from Vietnam. With its sharp, somewhat acidic flavor, this is a wine best-suited for those who enjoy strong flavors in their tipple.
  2. Cardinal – Although Cardinal is mainly grown for table grapes and raisins in Europe and the United States, Vietnam and Thailand have found a way to make wine out of this particular grape. Sweet, but not overpoweringly so, with a touch of acidity and rich notes of berries, this wine makes a unique addition to any red wine lover’s wine cellar.
  3. Chambourcin – Used in making both rosés and red wines, the aromatic Chambourcin is a versatile grape with bold, dark fruit flavors and solid tannin content. When made into a rosé, expect a steely, slightly acidic tipple that is ideal for summer drinking. As a red wine, you can look forward to its rich, berry/jam-like flavor—think mulberries, cherries, raspberries, or prunes—and piquant touches. Red wines also have excellent aging potential. When aged well, it becomes an earthy and aromatic wine that’s big on taste.
  4. Cabernet Sauvignon – Boasting of the dark fruit flavors of blackcurrants, cherries, and blackberries, with subtle touches of black pepper, licorice, vanilla, and/or tobacco, the Cabernet Sauvignon is a must-add to any wine collection
  5. Chardonnay – Here’s another staple for your wine cellar. The Chardonnay is arguably the most well-known of white wine variants. When oak-aged, chardonnays usually have a deep golden color matched with a silky, buttery texture. Unoaked chardonnays, on the other hand, have a zestier and ‘greener’ flavor that’s similar to that of a Sauvignon Blanc.

Another point for consideration when buying chardonnays is the location of its vineyard. Chardonnays that hail from cooler climates usually have a more acidic fruit flavor, like lemons or green apples. While those grown in warmer climates tend to have sweeter, tropical fruit notes, like jackfruits, pineapples, figs, or mangoes.

So, the next time you’re in Vietnam, experience the country’s culture and sample its fine wines. At the very least, you’ll expand your knowledge of viticulture. At most, you’ll have all the bottles you need to restock your wine vault.