When southern California native Michael Juergens was running downhill on a packed dirt road during the first international marathon in the Kingdom of Bhutan in February, 2016, he passed steep, terraced hillsides and fields that he thought looked ideal for growing grape vines. The 49-year-old bearded, tattooed wine lover, a partner in a global consulting firm, wondered, “Where are all the country’s vineyards?”

When he put the question to a couple of senior government officials at the celebratory dinner for the top runners, they said there were none.

That, he says now, was the beginning of his unlikely wine adventure, in which he ended up inventing an industry from scratch in a remote kingdom known for its stunning pristine landscape and ideal level of “gross national happiness.”

“As I look back,” he laughs, “I’m astounded we could pull off what we’ve done in such a short time.”

In April this year, he and a team of workers planted the first several vineyards in the country on a total of six acres. One of them, Yusipang, is at an elevation of 8,900 feet, with views of brooding forests and Himalayan peaks. Eventually, the grapes will go into wines under the Thunder Dragon label—or so Juergens hopes. We spoke via phone just before he left for Bhutan to meet with an architect and plan a winery.

Next spring, you can help plant Bhutan Wine Co.’s next vineyards on its first luxury trip for wine lovers. The itinerary includes a climb to the famous, much- photographed Tiger’s Nest monastery and the chance to be part of one of the newest regional wine projects in the world.

Here’s how it all happened.

Juergens returned home to California after the marathon, fired up by the idea of Bhutanese vineyards, dove into research, and sent a report outlining the country’s viticultural potential to the government officials he’d met. It stirred interest in Bhutan, and when a 2017 marathon brought him back there, officials wanted to talk.

Spurred, he spent weekends creating a business plan for them. He tracked down a U.K. soil scientist who’d worked in Bhutan and agreed it would be “awesome” for vines. The country’s soil is complex, created by tectonic plates pushing upward to create the Himalayas. Some potential grape-growing sites have 12-foot wide veins of red, iron-rich soil.

Not the First Effort
The idea of planting vineyards in the kingdom isn’t as unusual as it might sound.

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