On definition, brief history, local grape varietals, cycle of grapevines, locations, current situation, and substitutes for Thai new latitude wines
Coined by wine writer Frank Norel, the New Latitude Wines category has proved that parts of the world suitable for viticulture are no longer limited between latitudes 30 and 50. Low Latitude Wines cover wine grapes grown between 30°N and 30°S, including Thai wines, and nearer to the equator than Old World and New World Wines. New Latitude Wine is approached as a blend between the Old and the New World.
The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia (fourth edition) states that Thai government, led by Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, legalised wine production in the country in 1992 and paved the way for local wine scene today. But not many people know that the royal project by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) first experimented with grape planting to discover which varieties are most suitable for Thai climate and soil such as those from Australia, Germany and the United States. Construction mogul Dr Chaijudh Karnasuta was the so-called father of Thai grape wine industry. His Chateau de Loei is the first winery in Thailand, owing to low humidity in the air, less rainfall and sandy soil. Its first commercial harvest was only four years later which was exported to Europe and Japan.
Local vintners in Thailand mainly grow Shiraz, Black Muscat, and Chenin Blanc, with Pok Dum indigenous red grape variety branched out at a new latitude of roughly 15°N. There are only a few grape varietals in Thailand because of the different climate and less light intensity with extreme rainy and dry seasons.
With the help of advanced irrigation techniques, the best time of the year for quality harvest is from November to March, or during the dry season. In Thailand, it usually takes about four to five months for grapes to ripen. The guided reproductive cycle by oenologists should be complete within the dry season. On the other hand, grapes are cut out in the vegetative cycle which is ideally finished in the rainy season.
There are at least ten vineyards in Thailand in which seven are wineries including Chateau de Loei, GranMonte Vineyard and Winery in Khao Yai, PB Valley Khao Yai Winery, Issara Winery in Khao Yai, Village Farm & Winery in Nakhon Ratchasima, Silverlake Vineyard in Chon Buri, and Monsoon Valley Vineyard. While Pak Chong and Khao Yai are known as the main wine-producing region, most places offer vineyard tours and non-alcoholic goods for all ages such as fresh grapes, grape juice, grape jam, grape ice cream, etc.
The rise in wine production near the equator is made possible by the ability to control the environment or terroir. As a result, Thai vineyards are able to produce over million bottles of wine annually although they are rather confined in the north between the 14th and 18th lines. Local winemakers produce red, white, dessert and even sparkling wines in the traditional method.
An abundance of tropical and subtropical fruits in Thailand has recently contributed to the availability of various local fruit wines such as mangosteen, passionfruit and orange. Due to affordability and lower tax rate compared to imported wines, fruit wine blurs the lines between the proportion of grape juice and fruit concentrate. To prevent any misunderstanding of wines containing 100% grape and those mixed with other fruits, companies must cite “fruit wine” on their bottle label.