Wine is not the first thing you think of when you think of Thailand, perhaps elephants, perhaps warm luxurious beaches, but wine no. Nevertheless Thailand has a wine industry slowly emerging, primarily in Hua Hin, a not so sleepy coastal town and Khao Yai, a rampart of greenery north east of Bangkok. It is less than two hours’ drive up the expressway from Bangkok to the relatively peaceful countryside at the edge of Khao Yai National Park, the birthplace of the Khao Yai wine region.
Khao Yai means “big mountain” in Thai and the National Park covers an area of almost two hundred square miles with endless hills, evergreen forests and grasslands. Traditionally, wine grapes are grown between the latitudes of 30° and 50° degrees in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In contrast, most of Thailand’s vineyards lie between 14°N and 18° N a region once considered unsuitable for wine grapes. At one time, you wouldn’t often hear the words “wine” and “Thailand” in the same sentence.
These days it’s a different story. Prayut Piangbunta is Thailand’s first oenologist/winemaker and the Director & Chief Winemaker at Khao Yai Winery. He produces a range of exceptional “new latitude” Thai wines using international varietals like Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Shiraz, Tempranillo which of course, is normally associated with Spain as well some Cabernet Sauvignon and Dornfelder which originates in Germany. The Chenin Blanc with its natural acidity adapts well to the local climate and the Shiraz produces surprisingly elegant and complex wines, not unlike their distant Rhone cousins.
The winery lies in a 1,000 acre plantation and with two fully-accredited Thai winemakers and state-of-the-art technology it has the capacity to produce a million bottles a year. PB Khao Yai Winery currently produces eight wines which over the years won recognition by receiving gold, silver and bronze medals from the Decanter Magazine and at AWC Vienna International Wine Challenge which is the largest international blind winetasting held every year. No doubt these achievements have gladdened the heart of Dr. Piya Bhirombhakdi who planted the first vineyard in Kao Yai twenty-five years ago. (The letters PB are the initials of Dr. Piya Bhirombhakdi, the founder of the company.)
Wine isn’t the only thing on the menu, Khao Yai Winery is also the home of outstanding Schnapps made from Lychee which a visiting wine critic named “an after dinner drink made in heaven”. Besides producing wines PB Valley estate has also become a tourist attraction in its right as the professionally conducted wine tasting tours have received awards from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and have become a magnet for domestic and international tourists.
Wine tasting tours are conducted daily at 10:30 am / 01:30 pm and 03:30 pm. The tour lasts about 75 to 90 minutes. The rates are Baht 300 per adult and Baht 200 for children 4 to 12 years of age. (Children are served 100% fresh grape juice produced from grapes grown in the estate.