Wine-lovers may picture their glass of red or white originating from the mountainous enclaves of Napa, the Gothic provinces of France, or the rolling vineyards of Australia – but what about Thailand? In recent years, the kingdom best known for its beautiful beaches and Buddhist temples has cultivated a regional image as a wine destination, and not out of ease—the unpredictable weather and volatile soil don’t make for an obvious choice for the industry—but out of sheer passion.
Wine’s place in the kingdom
Nestled within the hills of Hua Hin up to the rolling valleys that skirt Bangkok are Thailand’s best vineyards, where ripe grapes are hand-cultivated as workers fan the baskets to keep the heat at bay. These local winemakers have found success over the last few decades by studying the viticulture practices consistent across famed areas like Spain and New Zealand, then modifying those techniques to manage Thailand’s tough climate. The resulting wines have gained international recognition and a host of awards, but the local connoisseurs—including the billionaire behind the Red bull empire Chalerm Yoovidhya—are continuing to invest huge amounts of baht into research to further cultivate quality.
Thai winemaking initially began nearly half a century ago, when the King himself started experimenting with vineyard viability. The royal project found that some areas of Central and Southern Thailand expressed more Mediterranean-like farming potential opposed to the typical tropical climate to which most of Thai agriculture has adapted. Today, Monsoon Valley Wines—Yoovidhya’s brand—is actually working with a German university to modify a special grape that can withstand Thailand’s volatile climate.
While wine has never been very popular among Thais, this has largely been because of general unavailability and huge foreign import taxes, and these entrepreneurs aim to help spurn a new culture of domestic wine appreciation through innovative strategies. Their resounding goal: to promote the concept of “New Latitude Wines” that thrive in the challenging heat and monsoon rains, not only simply manage to survive.
Today there are six members of the Thai Wine Association, which itself controls and standardizes the quality of Thai Wines, and all have launched to enormous brand success both regionally and internationally. Siam Winery, a brand of Monsoon Valley’s, exports to nearly two dozen countries across Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Over the years, the six members of the association have together earned more than 100 awards, including gold medals at international wine competitions.
The tourism industry is well entrenched in Thailand’s wine country, with vineyards eager to showcase their products to local and international audiences alike, and educate guests on how they’ve managed to succeed in such an unlikely climate. The wine regions of Thailand include areas near Khao Yai to the North of Bangkok, Pattaya to the South, and Hua Hin along the Eastern coastline. This region skirts the perimeter of Bangkok, making for easy access and with several en route to other must-visit destinations toward the South of Thailand and its stunning islands.
Located in sprawling Hua Hin province near Kuiburi National Park is one of the country’s most innovative and expertly run wineries, whose efforts were applauded by the international community in 2017 as the first Thai wine to win “Brand of the Year” at the World Branding Awards. Originally called Hua Hin Hills, the vineyard re-launched its brand last year in time for its annual Harvest Festival, held each March. During the festival the vineyard offers daily grape picking activities a well as a “From Vines to Glass” tour each Friday where guests can tour the vineyard by jeep, including the unique 10,000 hectares of “floating vineyards” in the Chao Phraya River Delta. Guests will learning about the process—complete with grape stomping—and end the day with a curated wine tasting. Other tours available year-round include vineyard experiences for all interest levels, and courses in wine tasting from the casual drinker to seasoned experts.
Using the highest-quality imported machinery from Italy, Silverlake’s Pattaya-based vineyard is easily accessible from Bangkok, buoyed by the nascent renaissance Pattaya is experiencing, itself attracting an influx of high-quality restaurants and entertainment. The plantation is set alongside a stunning lake sporting scenic backdrops against Central Thailand’s rolling hillside and the nearby Buddha Mount. Tours of the vineyard grounds and winery are available and a number of events and festivals are hosted throughout the year.
Just adjacent to Khao Yao National Park is the GranMonte Estate, poised 350 meters above sea level across a 40-acre valley. The vineyard’s concept channels sustainable agriculture, using tailor-made techniques to suit the soil and climate of its specific region of Thailand. Visitors can enjoy guided tours and tastings, and the on-site shop includes not only wines for sale but other products made from their harvests, including homemade jams and pies.
This family-run vineyard along stunning a cliff edge incorporates longstanding French techniques into its winemaking processes, focusing on organic and eco-friendly practices to ensure the best quality in its products. Harvest season runs around mid-February, during which time the property hosts an annual festival, and nearly year-round host guests in a “farm stay” program that promotes nature and health-based activities.
One of the largest and longest-running vineyards in Thailand is PB Valley Winery, located in the Khao Yai region known regionally for promoting its concept of “New Latitude Wines.” Guests have the opportunity to join the award-winning vineyard tour, which includes tasting and a full immersion into the processed developed by its German and New Zealand-trained winemakers at its education center. PB Valley Winery also tends to a variety of other orchards including seasonal flowers, dragon fruit, passion fruit, mango, and Japanese melon.
Situated on the Phu Rua Highland, Chateau de Loei is the first winery to distribute Thai wine internationally in 1995 to Europe and Japan. It boasts a climate similar to Southern France, making it ideal to tackle the major challenge many Thai wineries face – developing a good red. While the grapes harvested for white wines have typically proven amenable to many wineries, reds that match the quality of other global wine regions have been ever elusive.