Myanmar enters the world of wine

It once was Burma. Now it is Myanmar.

It once had no vineyards. Now it has one.

The military-run 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.

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, 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.

I found all this fascinating because in a world in which many countries treat foreigners as spawn of Satan and try to kill them off, a man like Morsbach isn't afraid to adopt a country he has grown to love and add to its economic well being. Let's hope for a safe future for him, and a better one for strife-torn Myanmar.

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