Thai Wine: Is It the Time for New Latitude Wines?
Think Thailand – think exotic beaches and tropical stretches of stunning coastline. Those visiting Thailand usually pair these spectacular sights with a refreshing coconut drink, an icy Leo beer or a fruity cocktail. Wine isn’t really the drink that many travellers associate with Thailand, however in recent years the locals have developed a thirst for wine and have started contributing to the global wine industry. The accolades and awards granted to some of the vineyards and cultivars are evidence enough that Thai wine is making a unique mark of its own. We’ll raise our glass and toast to that. Chok dee! Cheers!
Roots of wine production in Thailand
Unknown to most, Thailand has been growing grapes and producing wines from the harvest for over 3 decades. Surprisingly the biggest stumbling block in wine production in the kingdom isn’t the weather or the soil, but rather the extremely high tax placed on wine in Thailand.
Despite the fact that wine has never really been a significant part of Thai history and culture, Thailand has become a definite forerunner for wine-making in tropical conditions since the early 90’s. While the world is familiar with Old World Wines from Europe, New World wines from South Africa, New Zealand, America and Australia, very few people are familiar with New Latitude wines.
Conventionally, wine-making grapes have usually been developed in the northern and southern hemispheres between the 30th and 50th parallels. However, Thailand has been able to lead the way in the production of wine that is now known as ‘New Latitude’ wines by growing grapes in a confined area in the north between the 14th and 18th parallels. Initially believed to be an impossible feat, Thailand has disproved this belief and now produces over 1 million bottles of wine every year, such as red, white, dessert wine and even sparkling wines made in the traditional method. These wines are served in high-end Thai restaurants, sold locally and a third are even exported internationally.
During a royal project under King Bhumibol Adulyadej, that began experimenting with planting grapes in Thailand, it was discovered that certain regions in the country that were more mediterranean than tropical, were favourable to grape growing, wineries and vineyards. However, it wasn’t really until Dr. Chaijudh Karnasuta that the wine industry in the kingdom and locally produced wine in Thailand began to kick off.
Dr. Chaijudh Karnasuta, the late hotelier and construction tycoon, is well-regarded as being the ‘father’ of Thailand's grape wine industry due to his massive contributions and successes in the field. From vision to reality, in 1991 Dr. Chaijudh Karnasuta planted his very first vines at Chateau de Loei and relished in his first commercial harvest only 4 years later. This was Thailand’s first wine to be exported to Europe as well as Japan. Following this success, the PB Valley Vineyards were planted in 1992, Chateau des Brumes were planted in 1997, and 1999 saw the planting of the GranMonte vines.
The main wine producing regions in Thailand
The main wine producing region in Thailand is around Pak Chong and Khao Yai national park in Nakhon Ratchasima; though there are smaller but nevertheless good wineries around Pattaya, Hua Hin and even up in the north. Any of these areas offer visitors unique experiences of combining fine wine, Thai dining and the wonderful chance to observe Thailand’s natural treasures and charming culture.
The top 3 best wine regions in Thailand
Siam Winery, 60 kilometres south of Bangkok in Samut Nakhon, is probably the most successful winery in Thailand with the well-awarded Monsoon Valley label. Most of these grapes come from Chao Phraya Delta’s “floating vineyards” that are planted on hummocks that rest on lakes. The grapes thrive in the rich, fertile soil that gets washed down the mountain during the monsoon seasons; hence the name, Monsoon Valley. Night harvesting takes place in this area with the grape pickers crossing the canals by boat or bridge.
Strangely enough, Chalerm Yoovidhya founded Siam Winery after following the success with the world-famous Red Bull energy drink and the winery has become Thailand’s leading producer and distributer of wine.
The ever-popular beach resorts of Pattaya offer more than just sun, sea and sand for those craving a bit of wine culture when in Thailand. Silverlake Vineyard is only an hour’s drive away from the capital and offers enjoyable and leisurely wine tasting experiences for those who make the journey. Italian-style architecture, manicured flower gardens and a picturesque windmill set the scene for a romantic and tranquil day out sampling fine wine and enjoying the rural views of southeast Pattaya.
Silverlake Vineyard also boasts a lake, a hilltop Thai and Western restaurant, stunning views of the nearby Khao Chi Chan reservoir and a quaint farmstall shop on the premises.
The vineyard grows a few red and white grape varieties of which red, rosé and white are produced. Guests can sample and purchase Silverlake Chenin Blanc, Rosé Grande, Shiraz Private Reserve Red and Chardonnay.
Khao Yai wine region, or Asoke Valley, offers visitors a small scattering of vineyards among family run farms, rolling green hills, fields of cheerful sunflowers and gorgeous country drives along rural, winding roads. The Khao Yai farm and wine trail is also home to the PB Valley Khao Yai Winery which is recognised as being the birthplace of Thailand’s wine industry. GranMonte is another successful winery in the Khao Yai Asoke Valley wine region which is owned and run by the family of Vissoth Lohitnavy and well worth a visit.
The kinds of wine produced in Thailand
Sparkling Blanc de Blancs Brut, usually made from a Chenin Blanc or Colombard grape varietals are the pride and glory of Thailand’s wine, but other kinds of wine produced in Thailand include the main white varietals, such as, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Malaga Blanc, Viognier, White Shiraz, and Rose Shiraz; whereas the main red varietals are, Black Queen/Pokdum, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dornfelder, Tempranillo, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Syrah. Muscat is another popular grape varietal grown and produced in Thailand. Thailand also produces dessert wines such as the popular Chenin Blanc Late Harvest wine from Hua Hin Vineyards.
Thailand’s best wine tours on offer
Hua Hin Vineyards
Siam Winery, the producer of Monsoon Valley Wines, is situated 60 kilometres to the west of Hua Hin and three hours from Bangkok via car. The winery offers a wealth of viticulture information to guests as well as wine tasting tours and an excellent Thai restaurant overlooking the majestic rolling hills. A bistro, retail shop, wine bar and wine cellar are also on offer. Guests can even take a tour of the 560-acre winery on an elephant or bicycle.
For those who are creatively inclined, Hua Hin Vineyards offers the unique opportunity for guests to paint their own personalized wine label. The vineyard also offers guests the opportunity to play the metal ball throwing game, petanque with friends or other guests while sipping on wine and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
Mid-February to March is the wine harvesting season and Hua Hin Hills has a host of fun harvesting activities, such as live jazz, grape crushing and a three-course themed dinner. Open from 9am to 6:30pm, jeep tours across the vineyards cost THB 100 a person with a complimentary welcome drink. Tour times are 9:30am, 10:45am, 1pm and 4pm. This winery is also the producer of the popular Spy Wine Cooler.
This scenic vineyard in Pattaya is an excellent way to spend the day and guests who can’t get enough of the hilly views and romantic surroundings can even opt to spend the night on the vineyards inside one of the cottages of The Movie House. With a 5000-seater music venue on site that hosts various musical events throughout the year, as well horse-drawn carriage tours, this vineyard is one of the most romantic in Thailand.
Tours at Silverlake Vineyards are conducted on an electric tram with stops made at some of the greenhouses, windmill and flower garden. The tour also includes observing the wine making process such as the fermentation tanks, bottling machines and seeing the oak barrels where the wine is stored. The tour takes around 35-40 minutes with no set time and guests can leave on the tram as soon as they show up. Open daily from 9am to 6pm, the vineyard offers two tour packages. Package A costs THB 250 and includes a bottle of grape juice and two glasses of wine, Package B costs THB 100 and only includes a bottle of grape juice. Children can go along on the tour for THB 70 too.
PB Valley Khao Yai Winery
Situated under 150 kilometres north east of the capital and snuggled at the edge of the Khao Yai National Park, sits the PB Valley Vineyards which makes a superb day trip for those struggling with the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. In operation for over 2 decades, PB Valley Vineyards offers professional wine tasting tours as well as two superb restaurants offering traditional Thai cuisine as well as scrumptious Western fare. The wine tasting tours offer various wine and cookie pairings and afterwards guests are free to revel in the beautiful scenery, buy products and take photos of the gorgeous vineyards and young grapes on the vine. Open from 8:30am to 8pm, there are five hour-and-a-half wine tours daily at 9am, 10:30am, 12pm, 1:30pm and 3:30pm. Guests can sample three wines, stopover at the fruit orchards and education centre. The cost for the tour is THB 320 for adults and THB 250 for children younger than 20 years old.
Visitors might also enjoy combining a visit to this winery with a trip to the national park or enjoying a round or two of golf at any of the excellent golf courses in the area.
The GranMonte Vineyard
The GranMonte Family Vineyard, two hours north of Bangkok, is a state of the art boutique producer of fine wines with spectacular scenery and a wealth of information for those who wish to learn more about the wine grown and produced in the Asoke Valley of Hua Hin. GranMonte produces a few red and white varieties, including a dry syrah that has won a few highly-acclaimed international awards. Ticket prices into the vineyard are THB 330 for adults and THB 240 for those younger than 20 years of age.
GranMonte Vineyards also offers packaged wine tours that include a wine tasting, vineyard and winery tour and a set lunch or dinner with wine pairing at their fine dining VinCotto restaurant. Prices for these tours start at THB 995 for adults, THB 945 for visitors under 20 and THB 440 for children aged between 5 to 9 years old. Opening hours are from 8am to 8pm.
Do Thais drink wine?
While the wine culture is very young in Thailand, with wine only really being mass produced for little more than 20 years, Thais do not drink very much wine although the wine making industry has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years. The hefty tax placed on wine in Thailand is also enough to deter many foreigners and locals and encourage the buying of the affordable Chang, Leo or Singha beer as well as the popular sugarcane rum, SangSom. While Thai wine is no means up there with wine from Napa, Tuscany or Bordeaux, the youth of Thailand is far more receptive and open to the new wine culture and art of wine making than earlier generations. Perhaps, as a result of this newfound interest and appreciation, the wine culture will pick up in time.
Fruit wine in Thailand
Aside from grape wine made in the traditional manner, Thailand is also home to various fruit wines due to their dizzying abundance of tropical and subtropical fruits. Some of the more popular fruit wine choices include pineapple, mangosteen, passion fruit, mulberry and roselle. While the beverages are decidedly average tasting and far inferior to what most visitors know wine to be, they are popular options with tourists who want to sample unique and interesting wine options. Some of Thailand’s more unusual wines include herbs, spices and even plants, such as the krachi plant which is known for its anti-oxidants and some of the wines are consumed for health benefits as well as enjoyment.
Purchasing wine in Thailand can be achieved in most supermarkets, liquor shops and even the ever-present 7/11s. Wine can also be bought at restaurants, wineries and vineyards, airports as well as online.