Although Thai wine isnt at the top of my drinking list when I go out to restaurants or bars, I have been hearing a lot of good things about the emerging industry here over the last year or two.
Thailand even has a Thai Wine Association now which has been established to promote different wineries and products.
When we talk about the Thai wine industry still being in its infancy, we really arent exaggerating. The first vines were planted at Chateau de Loei in 1991 by the late Dr. Chaijudh Karnasuta who is still considered the father of Thailands wine industry. He was the pioneer who had a vision of Thai wine and made it into reality. The first commercial harvest was achieved in 1995, and since then other wineries have followed suit.
There are three main wine-producing regions in Thailand. The first is in the Phu Rua Valley and Phichit province 460 kilometres north-east of Bangkok, the second is the Khao Yai region and the third is more southerly, in the Chao Phraya delta. The main issues facing making wine in Thailand involve not only the warm temperature but also the topography and rainfall. Wineries look for rather dry climates, usually in hills with natural drainage. In this way they can usually achieve a good level of maturity at harvest time with balanced sugar levels.
There are six main wineries in Thailand, all relying on technology and know-how from established vintners from Europe or Australia. The Siam Winery is one of the most well-known, especially for its ubiquitous Spy Wine Cooler which can be found in every supermarket and 7-11 in the country. It is a wine-based drink, flavoured with Thai spices, tasting rather like sweet soda and tends to appeal to Thai customers more than expats.
However, the Siam Winery have now moved on to more ambitious projects and cleverly brought in a French oenologist to help them. It now produces Monsoon Valley wines, in a dry white, made from Malaga Blanc grapes, a Shiraz with Black Queen grapes and a Black Muscat. The vineyards are unique in that they float on planted hummocks which sit on lakes and are harvested at night by pickers who have to cross the canals by boat or bridge and paddle the grapes to the winery nearby. This seems like a typically Thai idea, creating an original and surprising solution to prove that nothing is impossible here.
Perhaps in order to actually prove that wine is made in Thailand all six wineries encourage visitors and are happy to show people around the vineyards and demonstrate the way the wine-making process. Perhaps they just still dont quite believe it themselves.
I have to admit to not being completely won over by Thai wines. Coming from Australia I am a bit arrogant about wine and enjoy rich reds and dry whites. But I find Thai wines to be rather too sharp and immature. However, I enjoy keeping my eye on the industry to see if this is a novelty or something which will actually develop into something worth drinking in the future.
Something I have enjoyed however is the range of fruit wines which are produced in Thailand. Using other fruit such as mulberry, pineapple or passionfruit to create interesting beverages fascinates me, and I am happy to sip on these wines while eating Thai food, especially seafood and steamed dishes. They really are worth trying. But I think with spicy Thai food you just cant beat an ice-cold beer and this is what I will be sticking to for the foreseeable future in this country.