After visiting different wine regions in Australia I wanted to get to know the wine regions in Thailand. In March 2018 I visited the top restaurant The Reflection in the Bangkok Athenee Hotel, where the wine of the GranMonte Winery was served as part of the wine pairing. I was surprised by the quality of this wine and decided to learn more about it.
The GranMonte Winery is located 160 km northeast of Bangkok in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima and about 17 km from Khao Yai National Park at 350 m above sea level. The Thai Visooth Lohitnavy and his wife Sakuna bought the 16 hectare property in 1999 on which corn grew and a cashew nut plantation was located. Initially, the focus was on grape production. After her daughter Nikki graduated from the University of Adelaide in December 2008 at the age of 21 with a bachelor’s degree in oenology and awards in viticulture and took over the operational management of the wine cellar and vineyard, a new era began at the winery. She is Thailand’s first and only woman oenologist and the only graduate of Adelaide University to have studied both oenology and viticulture. As described in my Australia report, these two tasks are separate in Australia. Meanwhile, she is a sought-after expert on wine production in the tropics and advises wineries around the world. I met her several times during my stay. She was busy in the vineyards and highly motivated.
To get to the winery, I took a public bus from Bangkok’s Mo Chit Bus Terminal in 3 hours to Muak Lek, where a driver from the winery picked me up.
After a 20-minute drive we reached the winery and I moved into my room in the guesthouse. Before dinner I strolled around the winery.
From the terrace of the guesthouse you can enjoy the view over vineyards.
In the Vincotto Restaurant, which is part of the winery, I enjoyed a dinner with several courses. Each course was accompanied by a GranMonte wine. As in the Reflection Restaurant in Bangkok, I was impressed by the high quality of these wines, which can easily compete with the wines I tasted in Australia. During my three dinners and the tasting I got to know all the wines of the winery. My favorite white wine was the 2016 GranMonte Verdelho. GranMonte is the only winery in Thailand that offers this Portuguese wine variety. But also the GranMonte Viognier is a very good wine. With the red wines the two wines 2014 GranMonte The Orient Syrah and 2012 Asoke Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah were the best for me. The sweet wine 2014 Bussaba Natural Sweet Wine is produced with late harvested Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Muscat grapes. A perfect conclusion to a meal!
The Lohitnavy family ate at another table. They liked to pose for a photo. On the left in the picture is Visooth Lohitnavy and on the right his wife Sakuna, the founder and owner couple of the winery. To my right is the manager and oenologist Niki Lohitnavy, without whose enthusiasm and talent GranMonte would never have come this far.
The breakfast I took again in the restaurant Vincotto. Now I saw the idyllic location of the restaurant. The ripple of the small river with water lilies on the shore and the twittering of birds accompanied me.
The little river in one direction …
…and in the other direction.
I decided to have Thai breakfast. Simply heavenly!
The fresh GranMonte grape juice, muesli, bread and homemade jams were also served. A wonderful start to the day!
Vines on the GranMonte vineyard. The vines cultivated are Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Verdelho, Semillon, Durif and Grenache. Experiments are underway with additional varieties.
Of all the wineries visited in Thailand, GranMonte was the only one that produced drinkable and great wines. GranMonte was honored as the best producer of Thailand at the largest officially recognized wine competition in the world in Vienna.
All wines grown outside of the band between the 30th and the 50th latitude north and south of the equator are called ‘New Latitude Wines’ because in the past it was believed that vines could not thrive in these latitudes. Meanwhile, new latitude wines are produced in countries such as Thailand, Brazil, Vietnam, South India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Bolivia, Peru, French Polynesia, Namibia and Costa Rica. This has been made possible by an intelligent vineyard management system that measures the microclimate and water the plants precisely. Hormones are also sprayed on the leaves to control the plants. In Europe, the vines can rest over the winter and build up new strength. In the tropics, the vines continue to grow, resulting in a second poorer harvest. For quality reasons, at GranMonte all leaves and branches grown during the rainy season except for the wood are cut back completely at the end of the rainy season in mid/end October. Now the new grapes can grow during the dry season with a lot of sun. The harvest begins in mid-January with the Chenin Blanc grapes and continues until mid-March, when the Shiraz grapes are harvested. At the end of the harvest season, the vines are pruned again to prevent the vines from flowering during the rainy season. The work in the vineyard is more laborious than in conventional wine regions, because in the tropics the vines have to be pruned twice a year. Harvesting in Thailand takes place at night so that the grapes are not too warm during the first processing.
After breakfast I attended a wine tour which took place every hour and was very popular with the almost exclusively Asian visitors. With an open small bus we drove through the vineyards, visited the winery and tasted afterwards some wines. A young woman commented on our tour in Thai and English.
The wine cellar is state of the art. Here 80’000 bottles are produced per year.
The tasting included four wines. I was glad that I tasted the other wines at dinner and was able to assess the winery even better.
The prices per bottle start at just under THB 1’000 (CHF/USD 31, EUR 27), which is rather expensive. An important reason is the high Thai tax on alcohol, which depends on the alcohol content and the selling price. Thus, this tax can range from THB 225 to over 1,000 THB for a bottle of wine. THB 225 is already CHF/USD 7, so it is not surprising that the Lohitnavy family is advocating a change in this tax.
The winery’s shop sells not only wine but also fresh grape juice from Shiraz grapes, seasonal fruit jams, biscuits, olive dips, salad and pasta sauces and baked goods.
My visit to the GranMonte winery was a success. With a lot of hard work, determination, perseverance and joy in experimentation, the Lohitnavy family created an extraordinary winery.
PB Valley, Khao Yai Winery
After an extensive breakfast at the river on the GranMonte Winery I wanted to hike the next day to the PB Valley Winery 7 km away. I followed the map app of my mobile phone, but after half an hour I came to a big construction site where new roads were built. The roads on my app no longer existed, so I had to switch to the main road. I expected another hour to the winery. I asked a passing motorcyclist for the way. He said it was too far to walk, but he would take me with him. I was thankful for the ride, because even by motorbike the ride lasted 20 minutes. Arrived at the destination, he refused any compensation.
Dr. Piya Bhirombhakdi is a wine-growing pioneer in Thailand. The winery he founded in 1989 was the first in the Kao Yai area. After several years of experimentation, grapes were harvested for the first time in 1998. With 80 hectares and a production of 150’000-170’000 bottles per year, PB Valley is much bigger than GranMonte. The grape varieties Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Shiraz, Tempranillo, Durif, Dornfelder and Cabernet Sauvignon are cultivated. The winery is experimenting with other varieties, including Pinot Noir. The Thai oenologist completed his wine training in Chiang Mai, Thailand and subsequently completed an internship in Germany. The second oenologist is also Thai, but has lived in New Zealand for ten years and has worked at various New Zealand wineries. Both oenologists gathered their experience in cooler regions. I was curious about the tasting of these wines.
The winery is very well-kept and invites one to take selfie photos.
The vines of the winery
It immediately struck me that this winery was visited by many more people than the GranMonte estate. Each tour was attended by a large group.
At the end of the tour the tasting took place. This was a disappointment. The wines were undrinkable for me and also many Asians in the group were not enthusiastic. Of all the wineries this wine was by far the worst. Now I asked myself how a winery can survive with such wine for twenty years and produce this large quantity. Maybe good wines are produced, but they are not offered at the tasting. On the other hand, the Thai food taste, which develops in childhood, is completely different from Western preferences. The Thais also eat much spicier than the Westerners are used to. Therefore it is quite possible that this wine tastes good to some Thais, although many Asians at the tasting turned away disgusted. An important part of the winery are the guided tours and tastings, in which many people take part and pay a high entrance fee. Also the shop of the winery contributes its part to the economic success.
Afterwards I walked on the main road 7.5 km back to the GranMonte Winery. The Thais could not understand that a westerner could walk along the road in the heat. Two policemen on a motorcycle offered me a ride independently. Also several cars stopped spontaneously and offered to take me with them. But I wanted to walk on this hardly used road. Shortly before reaching the GranMonte Winery, the road led through a village with several aggressive dogs who, thanks to the intervention of a villager, did not bite. In the evening I enjoyed another dinner with great wines at the GranMonte Winery and spent the night there.
Issara Estates Winery
The Biscotti Restaurant of the Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel in Bangkok serves the Shiraz of this winery, located 15 km from GranMonte. On the wine list the wine is described as a fruity, lively and uncomplicated beverage. Since I only became aware of the winery during my trip to this region, I could not visit the winery and also did not taste the wine.
Village Farm Winery – Chateau des Brumes
The next morning the driver of the Village Farm Winery picked me up at GranMonte and took me to the 86 km distant estate. Since I was the only guest, I enjoyed a private tour.
Also this wine was drinkable only with overcoming. The winery produces 40’000 bottles. At harvest time a French oenologist supports the winery for one month.
I stayed one night at the Village Farm winery.
The bedroom was on the upper floor.
There was also a spa area in the estate, but it was closed and is now slowly decaying.
Chateau de Loei
The Chateau de Loei winery is situated at 600 metres above sea level in the province of Loei, some 500 km north of Bangkok, and 60 km from the provincial capital, Loei. The first wines were vinified in 1995. Thus Chateau de Loei is the first winery in Thailand. With 130 hectares it is 60% bigger than the PB Winery and more than eight times bigger than the GranMonte Winery. Here, too, the Shiraz and Chenin Blanc grape varieties, which thrive best in the tropics, are cultivated.
The winery offers a large selection of different wines. The inexpensive wines are cheaper than at the previously visited wineries. But these also cost THB 450 (CHF/USD 14.50) per bottle due to the high alcohol tax. Some of these wines are drinkable, but they were not a pleasure. Since the Chateau de Loei produces a large quantity of wine, there must also be enough Thai buyers who have become accustomed to these wines over more than 20 years.
The production hall
Two other Thai wineries are the Silverlake Winery and the Monsoon Valley Vineyard, both of which I did not visit.
One of the owners of the winery, located 170 km south of Bangkok in Chon Buri province, is the Thai actress Supansa Nuangpirom. It seems that the winery has developed into an tourist destination with an inn, a restaurant, a garden and a lake and that the quality of the wines is secondary.
Monsoon Valley Vineyard
The inventor of Redbull, Chalerm Yoovidhya, founded the winery in 2001 to show that good wines can also be produced on the 13th northern latitude. The 110 hectare Monsoon Valley Vineyard vineyard is located about 240 km southwest of Bangkok, near the tourist town of Hua Hin at an altitude of 150 m above sea level. The estate is situated at the foot of a hill and benefits from cooling sea breezes. The grape varieties Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Sangiovese, Rondo, Shiraz, Muscat, Dornfelder, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc thrive here. However, the grapes are pressed in Bangkok. The estate includes a wine bar, a bistro, a shop and a wine cellar.
Apparently the Monsoon Valley wine is quite good. On one of my next trips to Thailand I will visit this winery.