A vital part of Thailand’s burgeoning agro-farm industry
GRANMONTE VINEYARD: One of the highlights of the Khao Yai agricultural route is the abundance of boutique wineries in the region. And although the idea of a vineyard in Thailand might seem preposterous at first, this region of the kingdom has a relatively low annual rainfall, and a relatively high elevation which, when combined, results in cool temperatures and low humidity. The resulting ‘micro-climate’ makes one particular pocket of farmland, known as the Asoke Valley, ideal for growing select varieties of grapes. It’s one of those geographical oddities that went largely unnoticed for years, but the people behind GranMonte Vineyard & Winery (52, Moo 9, Phayayen, Pakchong) saw the potential and they are now leading the charge as Thailand stakes its claim in the world of international wines.
This 100 rai winery, whose name means “big mountain” in Italian, offers tours of its vineyards, and these tours are usually led by certified oenologist Visootha ‘Nikki’ Lohitnavy (daughter of owner Visooth Lohitnavy). The tour covers all aspects of the wine making process, and also makes note of the fact that modern technologies have been introduced here to get the most out of each vine; fastidiously monitoring everything from humidity to temperature, air movement, and rain accumulation. In return, this ‘precision farming’ yields about 120,000 bottles per year (when the vines are producing at 100% capacity).
The grape varieties that grow best here are Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, and Viognier, as well as Verdelho, which is a Portuguese variety commonly used to make Vinho Verde (green wine). For tourists, the best time to visit the vineyard begins in November, when there will be grapes everywhere. They’ll start changing colour by mid-November, and in February this award-winning winery has its annual Harvest Festival, complete with a dinner party that includes free-flow wine. This festival also gives GranMonte a chance to launch some of their new vintages (see pg. 104 for more details). And if you want a bed for the night that’s close by—a good idea after all that wine tasting—there is a delightful guesthouse on the premises where you can choose either a Forest View, Vineyard View, or Vineyard Deluxe room.
OTHER KHAO YAI WINERIES
Thailand is a pioneer in growing ‘New Latitude’ wines—the region between the 14th and 18th parallels in the Northern Hemisphere—and today the Khao Yai region is recognized for producing the best quality grape wines in the country. In addition to GranMonte, the PB Valley Estate winery offers wine tours, as well as a shop and a restaurant on-site (www.khaoyaiwinery.com). Other producers include Alcidini (www.alcidini.com), and Village Farm (www.chateaudesbrumes.com), where you can also spend the night in one of their luxurious chalet style accommodations.
FARM CHOCKCHAI: Way back in 1957, Dr. Choak Bulakul purchased a deserted forest plateau in Nakhon Ratchasima, and began integrated farming. By 1969 he was operating a successful beef cattle business, which included promoting and developing traditional Thai beef cattle breeds. However, in 1976 he switched gears and turned his beef cattle farm into a dairy farm (due primarily to difficulties related to beef cattle exporting quotas, etc). Then in 1985 the company set up its own processing and bottling plant, for selling milk. By the year 2000, Farm Chokchai (169 Friendship Hwy, Pakchong) had become the first farm in Thailand to have an ‘agrotourism’ focus, and being an ardent fan of all things cowboy, Dr. Choak developed a Western style theme park around his successful farm, complete with period style shops, bucking broncos, and local cowboys performing daily rodeo shows. No wonder it’s become such a major tourist attraction in the Khao Yai region, playing host to about 300,000 visitors each year.
The farm’s 2.5 hour Agro Knowledge Tour—which takes visitors around the farm on an authentic Western-style covered wagon—covers all aspects of the agricultural process, including milk production, organic farming, composting, and animal husbandry (including sheep herding). But this operation is more than just an edu-tainment opportunity for school kids. Farm Chokchai is a thriving commercial operation, and it is ranked as the largest private dairy farm in Southeast Asia. In fact, the amount of milk produced by the 1,200 milking cows here is an astonishing 20 to 22 tons a day.
The farm’s total area consists of about 20,000 rai, and is divided into four main ranches, used for everything from grazing the heifers, to growing feed grass, hay, corn, and wild rice (there’s even a fish farm in the rice paddy fields). In an effort to become a self-sustaining enterprise—and reducing the company’s carbon footprint—all the cattle feed is grown and manufactured directly on the premises, the cow dung is made into composted fertilizer. Another sustainability factor is the earthworm breeding program, where waste from the farm’s restaurants (leftovers and vegetable peelings), as well as dried dung and leaves, are put together to make compost—which is where the earthworms are raised. And the extracted worm urine makes a good pesticide, which is used for producing certified organic vegetables.
WANG NAM KEAW: Sometimes referred to as Thailand’s ‘little Switzerland’, Wang Nam Keaw is full of green fields, farms, and hills that stretch into the distance—especially from the beautiful lookout point at Keptawan Cliff. It’s also the only place besides the north of Thailand that can grow high altitude veggies, and business is “blooming” for the area’s hard-working agriculturalists. In recent years many landowners here have begun specializing in organic farming, and the results are as astonishing as they are delicious. Red and green leaf lettuce is literally everywhere, and crops of corn, carrots, pumpkins, beans, cabbage and various leafy greens are abundant.
A great place to find this vegetable cornucopia is at the DIT Farm Outlet (111, Moo 2, Thaisamakkhee) which has been operating for almost a decade. Growers from the community arrive daily to sell their goods, and this network of 30 vendors is presided over by a jovial 64-year old who goes by the name of Lung Kai. He’ll proudly show off his chemical-free 10 rai vegetable farm located behind the main tent—he’s been farming for over two decades—but he’s usually more interested in playing his guitar (which he seldom puts down) and entertaining the visitors at Suanlungkai.
Another successful area agriculturalist is Mr. Veera Pataraanant, the man behind Mister Mushroom (Green Farm, 155, Moo 2, Thaisamakkhee). This self-taught mushroom magnate left a promising career in the mobile phone industry and began experimenting with mushroom production on a small plot of farmland he purchased here. He opened his mushroom farm almost 10 years ago, and today his fungi factory harvests over 10 tons of mushrooms per month. The mushroom varieties grown here all possess unique medical benefits, and in the cavernous factory showroom visitors can see different types of mushrooms growing row upon row—Shitake, Yanagi, Reishi, and the bizarre looking Monkey Head mushroom—while at the farm shop you can buy fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms, mushroom chili pastes and spreads, mushroom body lotions and massage oils, mushroom wine, and even mushroom ice cream.
FUN WITH FUNGI
Discover the magic of mushrooms at the Khaoyai Panorama Farm (297, Moo 6, Thanarat Road, Nong Nam Daeng) where visitors can learn all about the cultivation process of these formidable fungi. You can also sample some of the mushrooms grown here, to taste what all the fuss is about, and if you’re really mad about mycology there’s a resort with some cute mushroom houses where guests can book a ‘shroom for the night (the resort also has a mineral water pool for relaxing onsen baths). The farm is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm, and weekends from 9am to 6pm. For more information call 04 475 6234.