It’s 37 degrees, and the summer sun is beating down fiercely from a near cloudless sky. As my ride drives away, I shade my eyes and take in the scenery from under a cashew tree, its bright red fruits drooping down generously. Extending beyond the horizon lie countless rows of green vines, surrounded on either side by dramatic, forest-covered mountains. I’ve finally arrived at the GranMonte Estate: home to Thailand’s most awarded wines–and the first and only fully qualified Thai oenologist and winemaker.
A Thai winery? Unbeknownst to many, Thailand has, in fact, been producing wine from grapes grown locally for decades. Today, wineries across the country are producing everything from the classic still wines made from Syrah and Chenin Blanc–to bottle-fermented sparkling, sweet and natural wines made from both well-known and more obscured international varietals.
In recent years, thanks to intrepid vintners and advances in technology, their success is growing on the global stage–and some say it won’t be long before Thai wines are on equal footing with their old and new world counterparts.
GranMonte is a Thai winery that I, for one, will be following closely in the years to come. Situated in an area poised 350 metres above sea level, known for cooler, drier climes and terra rossa–its wines are presently the most decorated in Thailand, having won over 100 awards in the past four years.
Spending some time there, one begins to understand why. The serene and majestic atmosphere, in fact, belies a thriving hotbed of dynamic experimentation and innovation, spearheaded by oenologist and winemaker Nikki Lohitnavy. In the vineyard, over 40 different grape varietals are being tested to see which will take root and flourish in their new tropical home; experiments with an organic plot are also underway. In the cellar, enormous, earthenware pots modelled after those used to ferment wine in Georgia 8,000 years ago, or kvevri, are employed to produce a natural wine; a few metres away, a crémant methode champenoise rosé awaits hand-riddling. And, the thing is–I get the sense we are only scratching the surface.
As my last evening comes to a close, Nikki shares that it’s difficult to say exactly what ‘style’ inspires the winemaking at GranMonte for the process in the new latitudes ‘has no rules’. To her, what is most important is that, no matter the approach, wines express the terroir authentically–and sustainably. And, she adds, ‘what could be more sustainable than great wines borne from the land, people and spirit of our own country?’
I can’t help but leave feeling excited about the future of Thai wines.
Epilogue: Early the following morning, I receive a message from Nikki asking, ‘Did you see them??’, followed by a series of photos showing fallen mangoes, and a bent flagpost. Indeed, it seems that only in a ‘new latitude’ Thai vineyard might you have to contend with wild elephants roaming in the night.