A visit to Khao Yai especially during the grape harvest season is more than just a weekend alternative to the beach.
by Percy Roxas.
Yes, Virginia, Thailand makes its own wine. Thailand pioneered the so-called “New Latitude of Wine” between the 14th and 18th parallels in the Northern Hemisphere and today the 240-acre Khao Yai region, one of the three distinct wine regions of Thailand, is recognized for producing the best quality grape wines in the country.
Every year, usually between mid-January and February, wine connoisseurs and their ilk flock to Khao Yai. It’s because several vineyards in the region holds a “Harvest Festival” at this time not only to celebrate the season of grape and wine, but also to showcase the scenery and various offerings at each vineyard. This year, the wine harvest festivals are being held this month because the grapes were delayed by about three weeks due to the drought, says a source from one of the vineyards. The normal pruning time for Khao Yai grapes is September and October.
That said, the four major Khao Yai wineries are all ready for this year’s much-awaited festival, which has built a reputation as a not-to-be missed fun-filled activity for wine lovers and their friends.
PB Valley will hold its “Harvest Festival” on Feb. 27, while GranMonte Vineyard and Winery has set its “Pick of the Season 2016” event on Feb. 13 and 14.
What can we expect from this year’s “Harvest Festivals”? The program varies from vineyard to vineyard but as what GranMonte is organizing this year, an exciting line-up of activities await.
“Every year, the arrival of the wine grape harvest season is heralded by a festival at our estate in Khao Yai, open to the public,” says Nikki Lohitnavy, heiress to the GranMonte estate and Thailand’s first female winemaker. “We will have booths of various activities such as dinner party and harvest competitions for holidaying couples and families, including snacks, farm produce stalls, a Wine Bar in the Vineyard, and activity booths for children on Feb. 13-14. Entry to daytime festivities, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., will be free of charge on both days.”
The GranMonte theme for this year is “Tropical Harvest Weekend (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 081-734-7049 and 081-488-4490). While the main events are happening on Feb. 13-14, GranMonte’s “Harvest Promotion” runs for the entire month.
Guests can enjoy the full atmosphere of the harvest season with vineyard tours, grape picking, winery tour, wine tasting, and souvenir for the whole week. Prices vary depending on your booking, weekdays or weekends.
For Village Farm, the festival starts with winetasting and cocktails at 5 p.m., then a dinner at 7 p.m. AT about 9 p.m., a local band will lead the guests to the vineyard to help harvest grapes. Village Farm has two harvest dates this year, said ist general manager,Viravadee Cholvanich.
Meanwhile, PB Valley’s harvest festivities on Feb. 27 will feature a tour of the vineyards, including a grape picking competition, grape-stomping demonstration, horse-riding show with beautiful Andalusian horses, introduction of wines by the in-house winemaker, a pre-dinner cocktail and a BBQ Buffet with live band performances. Special offers on wines of the estate will also be available. Besides the Harvest Festival program, PB Valley has announced that due to increasing demand, the Wine Tasting Tours will be increased from the usual three. “We will have five schedules: at 9-10:30am, at noon, and at 1:30 to 3:30 pm, “ says Herbert
PB Valley Khao Yai Winery is of course the first to grow wine grapes and set up a modern winery in the Khao Yai area thus is called the “Birthplace of the Khao Yai Wine Region.” Khun Prayut, the winemaker of PB Valley, is the first Thai who has studied oenology and winemaking and is thus Thailand’s first winemaker.
We failed to reached Alcidini for its Harvest Festival program.
Because Khao Yai located in the driest part of the country the northeast, with a high elevation that gives cool and dry conditions during the ripening period, the wine regions of Khai Yai are all worth a visit not only for the grapes and wine but also for the scenery and offering at each winery or vineyard. The wine region has four major vineyards, namely: PB Valley, GranMonte, and Alcidini to the west and Village Farm to the east.
Owned by Dr. Piya Bhirombhadki, the visionary entrepreneur and owner of Boonrawd Brewery, PB Valley is where the region’s first vines were planted. Dr. Piya’s pioneering rootstock were Shiraz and Chenin Blanc from France and tempranillo from Spain. He declared his first vintage in 1998 and since then, his vineyard has expanded to 80 hectares sitting at 320-360m above sea level. The varieties now include Dornfelder, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. PB’s contribution to wine tourism has been recognized so many times, and it has won, among others, the Golden Tourism Awards (Kinaree Awards of Excellence), the Oscar of Thailand’s travel industry — in the agro-tourism sector. PB Valley Khao Yai Winery 102 Moo 5, Phaya Yen, Pak Chong // Tel: 036 226 415/6 // Email: email@example.com
GranMonte planted their first Shiraz and Chenin Blanc vines in the Asoke Valley. What put them on the wine map was their daughter Nikki who graduated in oenology from University of Adelaide and returned to Thailand to become the country’s first female winemaker. Her white and rose wines are clean and crisp, with tropical fruit characteristics sealed under screw caps. Hubert de Bourard from Chateau Angelus from St Emilion, Bordeaux, mentored her on her red wines, teaching her that a large part of winemaking is the work done in the vineyard. They were the first Thai winery to produce an estate fruit cabernet sauvignon. Visitors can eat exquisite home-style food at VinCotto Restaurant and sleep in their seven-room Tuscan-style guesthouse. GranMonte Vineyard & Wines 52 Moo 9 Phayayen, Pak Chong// Tel: 044 009 543/4
To complete the western trilogy, head to Aldicini, which is a hillside winery, located at an elevation of 550m. It consists of 20 acres of mostly Shiraz, with a few rows of Muscat Blau just because they can. The Terra Rosa soil has a lime base with ample minerals and good drainage, ideal to cultivate quality wine grapes. They are the only users of the Lyre Trellis system that assists canopy management with having enough foliage to facilitate photosynthesis without excessive shade, which would impede the ripening. Alcidini 176 Moo 2, Pak Chong // Tel 080 784 6969 // Email: firstname.lastname@example.org // www.alcidini.com
Village Farm is located at Baan Pai Ngam village in Wang Nam Keaw district, where villagers previously grew corn and potatoes. It began in the same era as GranMonte when Viravat Cholvanich planted his 80 acres of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon at an altitude of 500m above sea level on the southwestern edge of Korat Plateau, between Tublan and the national park. Chateau de Brumes Winery was designed and built by Jacques Bacou, the owner/winemaker of Chateau du Roc in Corbiers. The grapes are harvested in the cool of the night to ensure they are safely stored before sunrise. The grapes are then pressed and the wine is made using traditional French winemaking techniques by a combined Thai/French team. Village Farm & Winery 103 Moo 7, Thaisamakee, Wang Nam Keow // Tel: 044 223 407/8 // Email: email@example.com // www.villagefarm.co.th
A visit to Thailand’s own wine country is a weekend alternative to the beach. Explore by bicycle and sleep, eat and drink in the vineyards. There is often a shroud of mist at dawn before the sunrises over the dusky hills to the east. After 8 p.m. the nights are cool and a jacket or jumper is recommended. — with additional info from Laurence Civil.
How to get there
Leaving Bangkok, drive north on Phahonyhotin Road and then take the elevated expressway passing Don Muang Airport. Before Ayutthaya, head northeast in the direction of Saraburi, then continue on the Mittraphap Expressway leading to Nakhon Ratchasima up to Pak Chong, about 45km from Saraburi. From Pak Chong, the national park is at the end of Thanarad Road, south of Pak Chong. The park entrance is about 20km from the expressway exit, and the park headquarters are located about 10km south from the park entrance. One of the best ways to explore the wine, food and scenery is by bicycle, and while it is best to bring your own; mountain bikes can he hired for around THB 100 an hour.