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High hopes for Vietnamese wine   2009-07-21 - VietNamNet/SGT

Nguyen Van Moi, a grape farmer in Ninh Thuan province’s Ninh Phuoc district, was one of the first grape growers in Vietnam to register his products as Nho Ba Moi (Ba Moi grape) brand five years ago. He has now made another step forward after building a wine brewery in his vineyard.

Nguyen Van Moi (R) inspects his wine bottles before introducing them to tourists in Ninh Thuan province.

For a long time, the farmer has nurtured great ambitions to produce wine as he thinks it a waste to serve Ninh Thuan grapes as edible fruit only.

Most farmers in the largest grape growing area in Vietnam before 2005 turned out eatable grapes only. Moi could not grow wine grapes as the province had no seeds.

One year later, the province’s institute for cotton research and agriculture development named Nha Ho imported wine grape seeds and handed them to Moi. The Food Industry Research Institute in HCMC at the time cooperated with the provincial Department of Science and Technology to develop the wine production project on a family scale, and his vineyard, fortunately, was chosen as a pilot model.

“I was in luck to receive wine grape seeds and wine brewing technologies from scientists as a farmer cannot afford these,” he says. Moi and his family joined forces to keep the vineyard clean and fresh and equip the brewery step by step. He ordered juice extractors and crushers from HCMC mechanical workshops as imported products were too expensive.

While French or Spanish wine producers keep fermented grapes in oak barrels, Moi uses terra-cotta jars made by pottery kilns in Thu Dau Mot Town in Binh Duong Province. “A French company has offered me 200-liter oak barrels at up to VND25 million each,” he says. Moi also built an underground wine-cellar at the depth of three meters to store around 50,000 jars at a stable temperature.

Despite being a small brewery, Moi has spent over VND500 million on the facilities. “If I could not borrow VND200 million from a bank, the brewery would never run,” he says.

The vineyard now includes Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc grapes to produce red and white wine following domestic standards. He also turns out white liquor and grape syrup.

Due to the complicated technology, it took Moi and his family two years to stabilize production and launch the first wine bottle to the market in 2007. Moi immediately registered the product as Vang Phan Rang (Phan Rang wine) brand along with Ba Moi grape.

Thanks to the reputation of the Ba Moi grape, supermarkets in HCMC like Big C and Co.op Mart place his products next to well-known overseas wine brands after checking quality.

“I also provide wine for restaurants in HCMC, in the province, and sell to tourists,” he says. His vineyard and wine brewery have become attractive destinations for local and international tourists in Ninh Thuan Province where he introduces grape farming and wine production by himself. Moi says this is a good chance to introduce the Ba Moi grape, Phan Rang wine and grape cultivation in Ninh Thuan province, to the world.

Moi still sets aside 1.5 out of every 2 hectares of his vineyard to grow edible grapes due to the large consumption demand in the country and the need to secure good business results.

Each year, Moi harvests around 15 tons of wine grapes and produces 10,000-15,000 bottles of wine. “Every 0.75-liter bottle is made from one kilogram of grapes and priced at VND70,000-90,000. Liquor is VND65,000 per bottle,” he says.

He has increased output by around 1,000 bottles a year due to high demand on the market. “I cannot produce more as the cultivation area and productivity is limited,” he says.

The Government stimulus program early this year helped the 60-year-old farmer pay a VND200 million debt from 2007 and borrow another VND300 million at low interest to buy rippers for the brewery. Moi has a dream to visit wine breweries in France and Spain to learn their production methods and meet professional wine tasters.

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