It’s not widely known—yet—that Thailand has a small but flourishing domestic wine industry. And many of the unique selections slowly starting to come out of the country, and being recognized internationally as well, hail from the Khao Yai area, about 150 kilometres north-east of Bangkok. (The region is home to the expansive Khao Yai National Park.)
I recently spoke with Heribert Gaksch of PB Valley Khao Yai Winery, which was the first winery to open in Khai Yai back in 1997. He told me a little bit more about the emerging Thai wine scene:
What makes the Khao Yai area particularly suitable for producing wine? What makes the varieties special?
Although traditionally, wine is grown between latitudes of 30 to 50° (north or south), Thailand is far further south than that, with PB Valley Khao Yai Winery, for instance, located at 14.3° north on a plateau north of the Khao Yai National Park at about 300 to 380 metres above sea level. But the dry cool weather during the winter months creates a microclimate, which supports the growth of the grapes.
Being located at different latitudes from other famous wine growing areas worldwide, and being neither an old world wine nor a new world wine, we called our PB Valley wines ‘New Latitude.’ They’ve actually won international recognition such as several gold and silver medals at the AWC Austrian Wine Challenge—the world’s largest yearly blind-tasting event, which is great for promoting Thailand’s emerging wine industry and Khai Yai.
For many, it’s still a relatively new concept to effectively combine Thai cuisine with Thai wine. How is this changing?
In the past, often-recommended wines for Thai food were mostly Mattheus Rose from Portugal or Gewürztraminer from the Alsace, France.
But nowadays, with more professional sommeliers on duty in Thailand, other wines are being recommended and with Thai wines in particular gaining international acceptance, it’s looking very promising that word will spread. Thai wines are also now gaining ground on the local market with many restaurants and 5-star hotels increasingly serving it.
For example, three of PB Valley’s barrique wines—the PB Khao Yai Reserve Shiraz, PB Khao Yai Reserve Chenin Blanc and PB Khao Yai Reserve Rose match well with certain Thai dishes. And in fact, so does the Sawasdee Shiraz, which is a young wine.
What is the state of Thailand’s burgeoning wine scene now, and what’s the value behind the country of having a local wine culture?
We create at least 2,000 jobs in the communities. We also create tourist attractions at the vineyard and winery to help promote agro-tourism in Thailand. I think Thai wines still have plenty of space to grow in the market as we’re continuing to focus on developing the quality of wines produced domestically. And more and more people are really starting to know about Thai wines and are willing to taste them, which is already a great sign for the future. PB Valley’s Khao Yai Wines are for example by the first Thai winemakers — namely Khun Prayut who’s been with us since day one and who’s studied his trade in Germany, and also by Khun Joolpeera, who has joined us in 2008.
For those interested in learning more about Thai wines and cuisine, PB Valley Khao Yai Winery will, along with Globetrotting Gourmet and The Greenery Resort, soon be hosting the Isan Food & Wine Festival weekend event in Khao Yai, Thailand from June 10 to 12. Attendees will learn about wine and cuisine from local and international experts such as Prayut Piangbunta, Thailand’s first native-born winemaker, Nikki Lohitnavy of GranMonte Winery, Thailand’s first female winemaker and Philip Cornwel Smith, author of the everyday culture book Very Thai and editor of Time Out Bangkok. There will be other tailored activities for wine and cuisine enthusiasts, such as vineyard tours and tastings. For more information on this unique event, visit the Isan Food & Wine Festival website at: http://globetrottinggourmet.com/isan/
Images: PB Valley winemakers Khun Prayut and Khun Joolpeera (top), PB Valley in Khao Yai (bottom). Both courtesy of PB Valley Khao Sai Winery.