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Unbelievable Vineyards in the Tropics

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blog and photos by GPendrageon

Every wine lover is familiar with the wine regions of France, Spain, Australia, America, Italy, and Africa as the most prominent wine producers. However, now there is a new wine destination that is taking the world by storm and it is in the least expected place that one would imagine would be able to produce wine grapes. Right in the heart of tropical Thailand is the new wine region of the world in the province of Nakhon Ratchsima. Within it is a district called Pak Chong which has an area known as Khaoyai that is now producing award winning wines out of the vineyards. Two other notable areas in Thailand that are producing some really remarkable wines are located in the province of Chonburi and Hua Hin. These two places are rather unique as they are primarily coastal holiday provinces and the climate and temperature here is a vast difference from that of the Nakhon Ratchasima province.

The idea to grow grapes in the tropics was first mooted in 1956 when it was found that importing grapes from other countries was a very costly business as the consumption was big. The first grapes to be brought into Thailand for growing were the table grapes of which the grapevines were brought in from Australia, and other countries. The project was then under Professor Pavin Punsri from the Department of Horticulture in Kasetsart University.  Grapes were planted in the regions of Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Ratchaburi and Nakhon Pathom. It was also grown in the northern regions of Chiang Mai  and Loei as an enticer to change the current opium crops by tribes people to a more fundamental crop under the auspicious Royal Projects by the late HM King Bhumipol. Popular table grapes grown are the Early Muscat, Ruby and Beauty Seedless which are small types of table grapes but sweet.

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When it was discovered that grapes could adapt to the climate and soil conditions in Thailand which was a tropical climate with fairly heavy rainfall, hot and dry seasons as well as chalky and clay like soil, private companies soon experimented with different grape varieties which were suitable for wine production. Among some of the suitable wine making grapes were the Syarah, Chenin Blanc and Tempranillo.

One of the early pioneers of wine making in Thailand was Dr. Chaijudh Karnasuta, owner of Chateau de Loei who started growing wine grapes in the highlands of Phurua in Northeastern Thailand and produced the first high quality Thai wine in the year 1995. This lead on to other enterprising Thai connoisseurs of fine wines to invest in other vineyards and wineries around Thailand.

Among the successful and award winning vineyards in production today are PB Valley Wineries in Khaoyai, GranMonte Wineries Khaoyai, Monsoon Valley Wineries in Hua Hin and Silver Lake Winery in Chonburi. There are also a few other up and coming boutique wineries such as Issara Wineries in Khaoyai.

These wineries use state-of-the-art imported machinery in their wine production process as well as climate control facilities and a large investment in research and development. Several of them have won numerous awards through the years in the international wine circuits from Austria and United Kingdom. GranMonte Vineyard and winery in Khaoyai boasts the one and only Thai female chief winemaker, Nikki Lohitnavy.

The wine making industry in Thailand has grown by leaps and bounds, however the one setback is the high tax imposed on the wines which is still very much a deterrent and obstacle for many a winemaker. The young and upwardly mobile of Thai society have now acquired a taste for fine wines and while the appreciation of good wines is a growing phenomenon in Thailand, it is setting the benchmark for Thai wineries to further improve the quality and types of wines they produce into the market. Red wines are a popular drink now among the chic and those who appreciate the finer things in life in the big cities of Thailand which is where the current market trends are geared towards, and winemakers are busy creating award winning blends for the trending markets.

The wine industry of Thailand is now poised to making wine production and the quality of wines a competitive and comparable wine market to their European and more established wine counterparts thus putting South East Asia on the wine map of the world.

Visits to the wineries and vineyards in Thailand offer a different perspective to the visits of a vineyard elsewhere. A host of activities which compliment the visits to the vineyards are what makes it different from say a visit to a vineyard in France or Tuscany. Vineyard visits and wine tasting are often paired with local Thai cuisine which compliments and highlights the flavors of the cuisine and the wines. This alone sets it apart with the unique flavors of Thai herbs and spices. Wine tours are now a great tourist attraction and the vineyards of Thailand have garnered a fair share of the tourism market for those who have an appreciation for fine wines as well as those who want to experience a unique wine tour holiday in the tropics.

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