Thailand is a subtropical country and hosts all kinds of strange plants and fruits, but to find entire vineyards is a miracle. This is exactly what happened to us while visiting the famous Thai seaside destination Hua Hin. In the hills that make up the border between the Thai provinces of Prachuap Khiri Khan and Phetchaburi and the border with Myanmar, there is the Monsoon Valley Winery where tropical wine is grown and offered!
It is commonly said that there are three seasons in Thailand: warm, hot and damn hot. In a more serious tone, it's about "winter", summer and the rainy monsoon period. In the winter, temperatures drop to - imagine the inconvenience - 24 or 25 degrees, which for the locals is extremely low. In such a climate, the plants grow at an incredible rate and the plants usually do not care for their fruits. Therefore, it is not easy to grow plants that originate from other climates. Prachuap Khiri Khan province is known for growing pineapples, but more and more wine lovers are recognizing it for its wine production high in the hills above Hua Hin.
It is lively at the winery in early summer. In the unreal scenes of the vineyards in the middle of a tropical forest, we enjoy the terrace with the much-desired breeze and eagerly wait to try out what spells are being done in the basement of the Monsoon Valley. There are few fruits per vine, so the tropical winemaker must lead the plant toward the production cycle. Due to the climate, the life of the vines begins in mid-October, along with the beginning of the dry season, and harvesting takes place from mid-February to mid-April. Water is used for irrigation in ponds filled with monsoon rain. During the rainy season, it is not possible to produce good quality grapes because the rain falls every day, so this fruit is exclusively used as table grapes.
Without the monsoon, no agriculture would be possible in Thailand. That's why the winery got its name, which also has its exotic and somewhat mystical sound. The winery was founded in 2001 by Chalerm Yoovidhya, a wine lover who had a vision to create a Thai wine culture. Hua Hin is not his first experience. He planted the first vines in Tab Kwang, in the Khao Yai region, which is otherwise known for its winemaking. Khao Yai is the first Thai national park, established in 1962, and wine has been produced here mostly since the late 1980s. Rich red soil and good climatic capabilities have produced excellent Shiraz. A new challenge has been created in Hua Hin, where the winery is run by Suppached Sasomsin, a master of viticulture from several European universities.
Arriving at the winery is truly spectacular. The drive from Hua Hin to the winery takes about an hour, and as the road climbs between the hills, the landscape changes. From a typical Thai village, it turns into the enclosure of a winery, which is decorated with tropical flower beds and ponds, and then enters among the vineyards that cover much of the valley. One corner of the winery also houses an elephant shelter that was once used mercilessly for unbearable labour. In addition, rabbits, snakes, monkeys can be found on the vineyard estate, and we have met a few chickens ourselves. In the centre is a wine cellar, on top of which is a large area of tasting room and restaurant. Here you can taste the fine wines that the service staff bring. They strive to be as professional as possible, handling wine terms in English with a strong Thai accent.
We decided to try Premium Wine Selection. We first tasted Colombard, a French white wine variety similar to Sauvignon Blanc. In the Monsoon Valley, Colombard is offered as an aromatic wine flavoured with citrus and green apple, light acidity and aroma reminiscent of southern fruit. The 2019 wine has 12.5 per cent alcohol and is really ideal for sipping in this hot climate, and it would certainly be ideal to drink it with some spicy food, such as the famous papaya salad. Thai Colombard was spotted in 2015 at the Decanter when it won bronze, as well as at the 2016 Hong Kong Wine Competition, and a silver medal at the AWC International Challenge in Vienna.
White Shiraz, the first white wine made from this variety in Thailand, is intriguing and reminiscent of strawberry, red berry and black pepper aromas, and has the colour of pale salmon. The refreshingly high acidity is balanced by the pure flavours of the berries and the light tannin which gives White Shiraz a drinkability at any time of the day. We tried the 2019 White Shiraz with 12 per cent alcohol and the hosts offer it with the classic Thai dish Pad Thai.
The finishing taste featured a 2017 Shiraz with 13.5 per cent alcohol. The classic varietal flavours of dark plum, cherry, toasted coffee and spices are clearly found in this wine, along with very ripe tannins. Once aged in a German or French oak barrel, the fruits and sweet spicy flavours become clearer. This is a rich, very balanced and structured wine, which is our favourite from the Monsoon Valley. Hosts recommend it with beef curry (Panang Nua) or duck with red curry (Kang Pet Phed Yang).
Among other wines, the Flagship Collection stands out. The wines are rich, elegant and unique. Cuvee White is a blend of Chenin Blanc Viognier and Colombard's best grapes, while Cuvee Red is made from the richest and most concentrated Shiraz with a drop of Sangiovese. The late harvest of Chenin Blanc begins last until the grapes have reached the state of the raisins which gives the wine a juicy and long-lasting taste. All these wines come from several locations throughout Thailand. One location is around the wine cellar itself. The second is Tab Kwang Vineyard, in the central province of Saraburi, and the third is in the vicinity of Chiang Mai, far in the Thai north.
Monsoon Valley is a truly exceptional winery with genuinly interesting wines. Any wine fan would have to look back at true tropical wines, especially since many yeasts of European wine today come from the tropics. The wines are a very special terroir, with a completely different philosophy, but very exciting. Therefore, when visiting Thailand, don't bypass Hua Hin!
MONSOON VALLEY VINEYARD
1 Moo 9 Baankhok Chang Patana Nong, HuaHin District, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand 77110
Tel: +66 (0) 81-701-0222, +66 (0) 81-701-0444