Thailand Tropical: Thailand’s Amazing Wine Sector
There’s no doubt that, like most tropical islands, Thailand is amazing– there’s always something to blow you away.
Last time around, we talked about the wines that will best complement Thai cuisine and its bold flavours. There, we discussed the flavours of our recommended wines and how these would enhance the taste of certain Thai dishes.
This time, we’ll take a step back and look at the bigger picture: Thailand’s budding wine sector.
Tropical Wine from Thailand
Tradition tells us that wine grapes cannot (or more accurately, are not recommended to) be grown outside of the 30°-50° latitude. Surprisingly Thailand, located in the tropics where the sun is a bit too strong and the heat lingers year round, is doing well in growing grapes.
At latitude 14.3° and just a little over 1,700 kilometres near the equator, PB Valley Khao Yai Winery is making a name around the world for being one of the pioneers in Thailand’s wine sector. Along with other wineries, pioneers in the mountainous region Khao Yai district managed to produce and cork their first vintage in 1998. Since then, their wines have been served to heads of state visiting the country.
Thai Wine Regions
Thailand has three key regions when it comes to winemaking: the Phurua Highlands, Khao Yai, and Hua Hin.
The Phurua Highlands lies some six and a half hours north of Bangkok. Sitting at about 600 metres above sea level, the highlands enjoys a large diurnal range between 12° to 25° Celsius. This range defines the difference between the highest temperature of the day and the lowest temperature at night. The temperature variation has a huge impact on the ripening patterns of the grapes: the daytime heat promotes sugar accumulation while the evening cool temperature preserves acidity.
Khao Yai National Park
is about two and a half hours North East of the capital. The land is the country’s third largest national park, with most of it situated in the Nakhon Ratchasima Province. It extends into the Prachinburi, Saraburi, and Nakhon Nayok provinces. The region covers almost 2,200 square kilometres of land, which includes rain/evergreen forests and grasslands.
The terrior features mostly clay loam soil, which makes it ideal for growing red varietals, such as Shiraz, and full-bodied white grapes, such as Viognier and Verdelho. It sits roughly 500 metres above sea level, with a marginally narrower diurnal range between 15°-25°.
Meanwhile, the coastal region of Hua Hin lies two hours south of Bangkok. It’s soil is far sandier, which results in wines that contain lesser tannins, more subtlety, and more elegance. Colombard, Verdelho, and other white grapes also have a growing potential as its flourishing in the region.
While close to the sea, Hua Hin enjoys high humidity levels and warmer temperatures that can go up to 30 degrees.
PB Valley Estate
The PB Valley Estate is situated on the fringes of the Khao Yai National Park, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was named after its founder Piya Bhirombhakdi, who comes from the billionaire family that gave us Singha beer.
Chief winemaker Prayut Piangbunta is regarded as Thailand’s first vintner, after taking his talents and expertises from the beer business of Boonrawd Brewery to PB Valley in the 1990s.
The estate first grew Shiraz and Chenin Blanc, but the 400-hectare land now features vines from France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. The winemakers harvest their produce between January and March, before summer (or the hot season) rolls in across Thailand and the rest of the tropics. Average temperatures at the region ranges from 15-28 degrees Celsius. The region enjoys a cool, dry weather during “winter”, which creates a microclimate ideal for grape cultivation.
PB Valley wines have received gold and silver awards at numerous blind tasting contests, including wins at the Decanted Awards and AWC Vienna.
They produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Dornfelder, Durif, Merlot, Shiraz, and Tempranillo grapes.. These are aged for up to 21 months in French oak barrels, oak vats, or stainless steel tanks.
Wine lifestyle across Thailand is slowly growing, but it still has a lot of ground to make up for. According to data from the World Health Organization, spirits still account for 73% of Thailand’s overall alcohol consumption, followed by beer, which enjoys a 27% share of the market.
Decades ago, growing wines in Thailand were unheard of, today, the country crushes 1,000 tonnes of grapes and produces around 800,000 bottles of fine wine annually. As the country’s wine sector grows, so to will the global demand for it. Hopefully, it proves to be fruitful as the wine regions that produce the vino.