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Monday, December 30, 2013

MAGAZINE – CULTURE Growing Grapes in the Golden Land

Growing Grapes in the Golden Land

magazine, food
In the early days of Bert Morsbach’s winemaking venture in Myanmar, the land is plowed in traditional style. (Photo: Aythaya Winery)
YANGON — It’s half a world away, but there’s something about Shan State that reminds Bert Morsbach of his native Germany, where the hills in winemaking regions undulate with vineyards.
“Whenever I go through southern Germany, all the mountains are full of grapes,” says the winemaker, who more than a decade ago trod uncharted terrain by establishing the first ever vineyard in Myanmar. “In Shan State, in our area, in 10 to 20 years it will look like this.”
With its humid climate, Myanmar has never been known as a wine country, and when Mr. Morsbach got the idea to set up a vineyard here, very little was known about tropical viticulture. Unlike Europe, Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries experience an annual monsoon season, leaving grape harvests vulnerable to pests and fungal diseases that thrive in humidity.
“That’s why there was no wine in Myanmar for the past 150 years,” says Mr. Morsbach. “The British tried, as did the French—here, in Thailand and in China—but they all gave up because of the rain and the fungus attacks.”
1Another issue was sunlight. Wine grapes typically fare best with long days, but while the summer sun sets at about 9-10 pm in parts of Europe, Myanmar’s daylight hours end at about 6-7 pm throughout the year.
But these problems did not faze Mr. Morsbach. Originally from Dusseldorf in Germany’s west, he had already pioneered other ventures in Asia—including a windsurfing company in Thailand and an organic basmati rice business in Myanmar in the 1990s. The latter venture enjoyed solid exports but was taken away by the former military regime, so he decided to branch out again. “I thought, if the country has 150 sunny days, it must be possible to grow wine,” he says.
And he was right. His winery, about 25 km north of the famous Inle Lake, produces an international-standard brand of reds, whites and rosés known as Aythaya that can be found in local stores and restaurants. With a successful harvest in 2004, it became Myanmar’s first winery and remains one of only a handful of wine producers in the country today.
Far from the European vineyards of France, Germany, Italy and Portugal—and from the New World growers of Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand and the United States—Aythaya has allowed Myanmar to join a list of so-called “new latitude” wine countries, including Brazil, India, China and Thailand, that fall outside the traditional wine-producing heartlands.
But jumpstarting production in Shan State wasn’t easy. The first trick was finding grapes that could withstand the climate. Nearly all of Europe’s classic wine grapes—including merlot, pinot noir and chardonnay—grew poorly in Myanmar.
Mr. Morsbach had studied as a mining engineer in Germany and lacked formal training in winemaking, but with help from some of the world’s few tropical viticulturists, he set out to find a selection of suitable grapes. Of about 100 varieties tested over five years, half a dozen survived. Among the lucky reds were shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo from Spain and dornfelder from Germany, while the winning whites were sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc.
In 1998 he established a winery in Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State, but after importing thousands of vines from Europe, he was forced to relocate due to fighting between ethnic rebels and the government. “I had to give up because my safety was not guaranteed anymore by the local Kayah State authorities,” he says. He had grown rice in neighboring Shan State and knew the region offered a major perk: less rain, with about a third of Yangon’s annual rainfall. A high elevation with cooler weather would also be ideal for growing grapes, so the winery was moved near the southern Shan State town of Aythaya, at an elevation of more than 1,200 meters.
Mistakes were common in the early days. “We were throwing away our wine for two or three years,” says Mr. Morsbach, recalling the unsuccessful harvests. Slowly, however, the project came together. About half the grapes were grown at the winery, while more than 1,000 farmers in the central Myanmar area of Meikhtila were contracted to grow the rest, as they had already been harvesting table grapes, which have a lower sugar content.
From 20,000 bottles in 2004, the winery—known as the Myanmar 1st Vineyard Estate—produced 120,000 bottles in 2012. While some bottles are exported to China, most customers are local. Foreign tourists dominated sales initially, but Myanmar diners have quickly acquired a taste for wine and now make up the majority of the Aythaya market.
Mr. Morsbach’s brand could see a boost in sales after the Myanmar government recently cracked down on the sale of illegally imported foreign alcohol and wines. Over the past month it has become difficult to find foreign wines in Yangon grocery stores, but it was once possible to pick up a bottle from Italy, France, Australia or the United States for slightly less than the cost of Aythaya, which runs for between 8,000 kyat (US $8.30) and 14,000 kyat per bottle. The higher price was partly due to the production costs for a relatively low yield.
The slight splurge may be worth it. Aythaya has received a number of positive reviews, with one Thailand-based critic praising the 2004 sauvignon blanc as a wine that “should worry France.” Tourists can taste and decide for themselves at the vineyard, which offers guest rooms and a restaurant, while planning is underway to build a second winery next year in Meikhtila, which, with its central location, serves as a crossing point for travelers.
Despite Mr. Morsbach’s lead, winemaking has yet to take off in a big way in the Golden Land, which so far has just one other locally produced and international-standard wine, Red Mountain Estate. Still, some smaller wineries are reportedly springing up, and the German entrepreneur heartily welcomes more. “In Germany we have 20,000 winemakers,” he says. “We can do here with two, three or four.”
A version of this story first appeared in the December 2013 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine. The original has been edited slightly here to reflect recent changes in the government’s policy on imported foreign wine.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

How to Spot Fake Louis Vuitton Purses!

How to Spot Fake Louis Vuitton Purses

When buying an expensive purse from a name brand like Louis Vuitton, it is essential that you know you're getting the real deal. You can spot most fakes by examining the appearance and quality of the bag itself. Other times, researching the seller is enough to give you a good idea about the purse's authenticity.



How to Spot Fake Louis Vuitton Purses

When buying an expensive purse from a name brand like Louis Vuitton, it is essential that you know you're getting the real deal. You can spot most fakes by examining the appearance and quality of the bag itself. Other times, researching the seller is enough to give you a good idea about the purse's authenticity.


Look at the Overall Design

The bag’s design should be your first clue about its authenticity. Some fake designs are obviously fake, but others may require a little more research to catch.

  1. 1
    Find out if the bag is an authentic design. Odds are, if you do not recognize the design as a Louis Vuitton, it may not be. If you have any doubts, check the bag design through a boutique, on the official Louis Vuitton website, or in a catalogue to determine its authenticity.

  2. 2
    Be aware of designs that are likely to seem real but are actually fake. Multicolor, Cherry Blossom, and Cerises designs are not available in all bag styles. Vintage pieces are also more likely to be scams.
  3. 3
    If buying a trademark monogrammed bag, make sure the letters are clearly printed in gold with brown lines through the LV. Avoid solid colored monograms or monograms with a green tint.

Pay Attention to the Little Details

Your next biggest clue about a bag’s authenticity should be the little details, such as its zippers, interior lining, or date code. Every design is a little different, but there are many similarities between designs that will also help clue you in.

  1. 1
    Avoid bags with an attached tag. Most official Louis Vuitton purses do not have the tag attached. Instead, the tag is separate, often slid into a pocket of the purse. Be especially wary of tags that look cheap and are attached with little more than a thin piece of string.
  2. 2
    Pay attention to the interior lining. Most knock-offs use cheap plastic or suede to line their bags. A real bag may be lined with a variety of textiles, depending on the specific design, but most are lined with canvas, fine micro monogram textile, cross-grain leather, polyester, or microfiber suede.

  3. 3
    Be wary of bags that have plastic wrapped around the handles. The oxidizing natural cowhide leather does not need this protective plastic, and bags that come with that plastic might be fakes.

  4. 4
    Look at any clasps or other hardware. Legitimate bags use brass or gold metal, but many fakes use plastic with a layer of gold paint.

  5. 5
    Look for zippers with the "LV" logo imprinted on the pull.

  6. 6
    Check that "Made in" label. Originally, authentic Louis Vuitton bags were only made in France. For the past several decades, however, the company has also produced bags in the United States, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

  7. 7
    Check the date code. The majority of bags made after the early 1980's have a production code stamped on the bag. Since the 1990's, the code includes two letters followed by four numbers. Before the 1990's, the code was a one or two letter code followed by three or four numbers. Some were also simple three number codes.
    • Look in the right place. Usually, the date code is located beneath the D-ring.
  8. 8
    Know the specific parts of a particular bag. Even though there are many similarities from bag to bag, no two designs are exactly alike. Research what type of lining, feet, and base, among other details, a particular style of bag should have. Check on the company's website or ask your nearest boutique.

Check the Quality

Real Louis Vuitton bags are finely crafted.

  1. 1
    Examine the stitches. This is best done in person, but if not possible, ask the seller for as many close-up photos as possible. Sloppy stitches suggest a counterfeit bag. Another indicator of a counterfeit footprint is the number of stitches per inch (SPI) of the seam. SPI (stitches per inch) refers to the number of stitches in a single inch of seam. A higher SPI count will translate into greater overall seam strength, (and therefore a higher quality handbag). Authentic Louis Vuitton bags will generally have a higher SPI count than many of the counterfeits on the market.

  2. 2
    Walk away from bags with a tilted pattern. Legitimate bags have careful, even patterns that are well matched and proportionate. A bag with a tilted pattern that does not match up with itself is likely to be a fake.
  3. 3
    Look for upside-down LV's on the back. Not all authentic bags have upside-down LV's, but many do, especially if the design was made with one continuous, seamless piece of leather that wraps all around the bag. This is especially true of the Speedy styles, Keepalls, and Papillons.

Know the Seller

The reliability and reputation of a seller can be as big a clue to a bag’s authenticity as the bag itself.

  1. 1
    Research the seller, especially if purchasing a bag in an online auction or through a similar online venue. Check seller feedback. Look for sellers with an overwhelmingly large percentage of positive feedback with comments, and avoid sellers with negative feedback, zero feedback, or private feedback.

  2. 2
    Avoid sellers who offer no return policy.
  3. 3
    Read between the lines. If a seller's product description makes you hesitant to purchase the item, trust your instincts.
  4. 4
    If you cannot see the bag in person, look for listings with thorough pictures. Only purchase a bag after you have seen, at minimum, a picture of the front, back, base, lining, date code, and the embossed "Louis Vuitton Made in" stamp.

  5. 5
    Ask for additional pictures from the seller. They may be using pictures of real Louis Vuitton purses to sell fakes.
  6. 6
    Look for deals, but be wary of sellers offering a bag at a considerably discounted price. A legitimate bag that retails in the hundreds will probably not sell for less than $100, especially not in new condition.
  7. 7
    Avoid sellers that claim to have bags from a "new collection" not yet in stores.
  8. 8
    Avoid sellers that claim to have bags from a "wholesale list" or "closeout liquidation." Louis Vuitton does not discount, have outlets, or do wholesale. Any seller that claims otherwise is not to be trusted.
  9. 9
    Do not buy Louis Vuitton purses from street vendors, since the company does not permit street vendors to carry their merchandise.

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