The wine industry in Myanmar

March 31, 2015

I have written about the wine industry in Myanmar a couple of times. Recently, I found the above video clip on the Al Jazeera news channel. They interview Hans-Eduard Leiendecker, the wine-maker of Aythaya Vineyards in Taunggy, Shan State. Mr. Leiendecker is a man from the Mosel. He comes from Bernkastel, the famous wine centre, located in the central part (Mittelmosel) of the Mosel river.

Tropical viticulture (new latitude wines) has its specific challenges which are outlined in the video. Overall, production cost are not insignificant. Moreover, the nascent wine industry in countries sub-tropical and tropical countries is often subject to taxation and a regulatory environment which puts the young sector at a disadvantage.

I am very pleased about the positive outlook for the pioneer in Myanmar and hope that their efforts will one day pay off. The wine industry in neighbouring Thailand is a very inspiring example of an emerging vineyard and winery industry in a country without the many centuries of grape growing experience.

I will follow the progress and development, and hope to present you more success stories in due course.

Cheers

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Good bye Thailand – land of new latitude wines

May 30, 2014

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Thailand

My time in Thailand is coming to an end. After almost six years in Krungthep, the city of angels, we will move back to Europe.

Well, “back” is maybe the wrong word. The last 24 years I have spend in various Asian countries working for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom supporting our partners in their quest for liberty, property and prosperity.

Before coming to Thailand we lived in Jakarta, Indonesia for about 10 years, and it was in Indonesia that I came into contact with the first wine grown in the tropics. It was Hatten wines produced on Bali island. These wines are also known as “new latitude wines” but I learned this much later.

To my great surprise (and because of my general ignorance) I was in the position to discover the secrets of tropical wines in Thailand.

I do not remember when exactly I tasted my first glass of wine grown and produced in Thailand, but I had the great fortune to meet some of the key drivers of the Thai wine industry over the last six years.

In these years I learned to appreciate Thai wines. I also learned about some of the challenges in growing wine grapes and making wine under tropical conditions.

The Thai wine industry is small but its proponents are determined to produce excellence and they are passionate about their wines. And rightly so. Thai wines have shined in international wine tastings and competitions and earned almost every possible award.

I have written about my experiences with Thai wines, wineries, and the people who make them. I will not hide that I have favourites.

My favourite family winery is Gran Monte Family Estate, the only true owner-operator family enterprise (about 17 ha under vines). The founder, Visooth Lohitnavy, his wife Sakuna and their daugther Nikki are all involved in the family business.

Over the years the wines produced by Nikki Lohitnavy have become better and better. It is hard to say what my favourites are, all are good, actually very good. Since 2008 Nikki has won with her wines more than 100 medals and international wine awards, an amazing performance.

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Gran Monte vineyard in Khao Yai

I love the Viognier but also the two Chenin Blanc wines. One of my favourites is the new Verdelho which is coming into the market soon. Also a sprakling wine is produced.

All the reds are exquisite. I like the Syrahs and the Cabernet Syrah blends. Of the two rose wines I prefer the dryer version made from Grenache.

If you should come to Thailand a visit of Gran Monte vineyard in Khao Yai region is a must. Gran Monte has also a very comfortable guesthouse (try the traditional Thai breakfast) and an excellent restaurant called “Vincotto”.

My favourite corporate wine producer is PB Valley Wines, also located in the Khao Yai region. The 80 ha vineyard is owned by the Bhirombhakdi family (owners of the Singha brewery). The chief wine-maker is Prayut Piangbunta.

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Wine presentation at the Great Hornbill bistro, Bangkok

The Great Hornbill Bistro in Bangkok serves as a cellar door. I have tasted their new vintage recently and can tell you that the new wines are very promising. Also at PB Valley, the wines are getting better and better.

Try the Pirom Reserve series of their Chenin Blanc and Shiraz wines. PB Valley also produces a Tempranillo, the 2010 vintage of which won a silver medal from the AWC in Vienna. I also like their Lychee schnaps, very fruity and worth the high price.

At an international wine symposium in Chaing Mai, I had the chance to meet the above vintners and wine-makers, amd some more of the about handful producers active in Thailand.

I will miss Thai wines. And I am glad to have had the chance to learn so much about the wine industry in Thailand. The generosity of the Thai wine people knows no bounds.

Thank you Khun Vissoth, Sakuna and Nikki but also Khun Prayut and Khun Heribert for your outstanding hospitality and generosity. I wish you all possible success in your quest for excellence. The Thai wine industry is on the world wine map. I am convinced that you will grow further also as a role model for producers in neighbouring countries.

Cheers


Gran Monte harvest festival 2014 – Khao Yai, Thailand

February 28, 2014

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Traditional folk dances to welcome the guests

The Gran Monte Harvest Festival was the highlight of the year for me here in Thailand. For the third time in a row I had the opportunity to participate in this wonderful event at the Gran Monte Family Winery in the Khao Yai region, about 2 1/2 hours northeast of Bangkok. And it is not getting boring, just the opposite. Each year Khun Visooth and his team surprise their guests with new highlights.

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Khun Visooth overseeing the competition

On the wine front of course everybody is eager to taste the new vintage. This year we were, among others, looking forward to the second vintage of the Viognier. Nikki Lohitnavy, the wine-maker, is doing a great job. I just love her hand grafted wines. And every year it seems they are getting better and better.

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Margit with Sole, the Chenin Blanc

For tasting notes, please visit the wine blog of my friend Oliver, the Winegetter. I cannot do tasting notes like him; just reading Oliver’s descriptions is mouth watering.

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Ripening grapes

Another novelty this year was that the evening program of the event was held in new building for the VinCotto Restaurant. After the addition of the tower, a wine cellar and a much enlarged main hall, the new VinCotto restaurant has the flair of a traditional country inn. I particularly liked the various bits of veranda which reminded me of an Australian porch.

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Together with my wife Margit, I threw myself into the festivities. Since we stayed overnight in the cottage at the estate, we did not have to worry about anything. Many musicians joined us in the evening and entertained the crowd with the good old songs from the last century: rock and roll.

GM HF5

Since we are leaving Thailand for Europe in June, it felt a bit like a farewell. But the good thing is that to travel back home to Australia we have to come via Thailand. Therefore, there is hope that this was not our last harvest festival. We will come again.

Cheers

GM HF6


New frontier for new latitude wines: Cambodia

November 29, 2013

When I opened the Bangkok Post last weekend, I could not believe my eyes. The headline red “Going wild for Cambodian wine”. Well, I thought why not Cambodia. After Indonesia (on Bali island), Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, another Southeast Asian country has joined the club of vine cultivators and wine makers.

The grapes for the wine-making are collected from wild forest grapes, the article says. There are photos available also on the internet but they are not so clear as regards the kind of vinus vinifera (if it is vinifera).

Cambodian wine

Bennett Murray and his piece in the Bangkok Post

The wine-making process described in the Bangkok Post article reads as follows:

“The manufacturing process is much the same as for wine everywhere. The juice is extracted from the grapes, and then palm sugar and yeast added”.

Palm sugar, I thought, that’s not just the usual additive to grape wine as far as I know. The article mentioned the problems with the grape quality. Since it is collected and not estate grown-fruit, I can imagine the magnitude of the issue. However, I am still interested to get a closer look at this product.

But there is also a real winery in Cambodia. Located in Battambang province, Leng Chan Thol and her husband Chan Thay Chhoueng, have planted a vineyard. They grow on a 3 ha plot of land mainly Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

I would love to try some of their wines.
My next trip to Cambodia should provide an opportunity for just that.

Address
Chan Thay Chhoueng plantation is located at
#72, Bot Sala Village, Banon District, 16 kilometres south of Battambang City.
For more information call tel.: 012 665 238.


Gran Monte Harvest Festival 2013 – Guest House and hospitality

April 7, 2013

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My room key

This is the third and last of my Gran Monte Harvest Festival blog entries. I know that the festival was in February and now it is already April. However, visiting Gran Monte Vineyard is always a good choice regardless of the time of year.

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The view from the guest house

During the harvest festival I was very lucky to stay at the Gran Monte Guest House which is just in the middle of the Gran Monte vineyards with great views.

It is wonderful to wake up in the morning, hear the birds sing and step out of the room, a room with a view so to speak and be right in the middle of things.

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The wine education at Gran Monte also includes some harvesting of grapes, just a little for the feeling of it. Of course I also participated, took the secateurs and cut a couple of bunches, just for fun.

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Secateurs and a little basket

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Beautiful and healthy grapes

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Syrah grapes ready for harvest

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Anty Fung, project manager from Asian Palate in Hongkong

In my first blog entry I mentioned that I shared the bus with a couple from Hongkong. It turned out that Anty Fung was a very knowledgeable wine writer and wine promoter working at Asian Palates.

To educate Asian wine drinkers to grape wine is not an easy undertaking. Often the description of what you are going to experience when you drink a specific wine is completely intangible to non Europeans. The references are out of sync with Asian life experience so to say.

This means tasting notes have to be re-written so that Asian consumers can connect to the product. Anty is working in this exciting sector and it was a great pleasure to listen to her and her assessments.

Moreover, she was great fun.

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The awesome breakfast at Gran Monte

Finally let me tell you that the breakfast at Gran Monte Family Estate is just another marvel. Look at the picture above. Would you not love to have this kind of egg dish in the morning?

You can have it. Just go and check it out at Gran Monte guest house. Stay there for a weekend and experience the uniqueness of a Thai vineyard and winery with great food and fine wines. You are also going to meet a Thai family which is very passionate about wine, viticulture and the environment of the Asoke Valley.


Culture and wine – Gran Monte Family Estate, Thailand

March 29, 2013

Remember I promised you two more pieces about the Gran Monte Harvest Festival last February? Here is number two.

What was very positive at the the Gran Monte Harvest Festival is that the event is also a means to educate future Thai wine lovers to grape growing, wine making and wine appreciation. Moreover, such events can be used to promote tourism and local specialties, products as well as culture.

GMonte 20 web

The program of this years Gran Monte Harvest Festival was full of both. At the various food stalls one could sample local cuisine including the Gran Monte wines. Moreover, the Gran Monte shop carries all kinds of food and non-food items made from local raw materials. Furthermore, all visitors were presented with a beautiful traditional piece of cloth to be wrapped around the waist or used as shawl.

But also an entertainment program was carefully prepared consisting of dances and dance performances. This gave local dance troupes an opportunity to show off their skills and promote local culture, the backdrop to which were the stunning mountains of the Asoke Valley.

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From the vineyard emerged the first group of dancers

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Colourful Thai costumes and head gear were displayed

This was not all. Gran Monte Family Estate is also deeply involved in supporting charitable organizations and other good causes. One could attribute this to their pro-active corporate responsibility policy. Three cheques were presented and they went to the following initiatives:

1. The Thai Elephant-Assisted Therapy Project (TETP)
2. The Forest Fire Prevention Unit, Khao Yai-Nakornrachasima
3. The Vajiralongkorn School, Pak Chong-Nakornrachasima

Apart from traditional culture, Gran Monte also promotes contemporary arts. The highlight for me is the rock band playing in the evening. Many songs remind me of my youth, the good old days of rock and roll of the 1970 and 1980. It does not take long to get people off their seats and on to the dance floor.

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The rock band

Because of the neighbours, the band cannot play all night (this is most likely what the Gran Monte guests would want) and that is one strong reason why one has to come back to the next harvest festival.

Enjoy more excellent wines and the music at the next Gran Monte Harvest Festival in 2014. The 2013 vintage promises to be the best ever.


Two Men from Mosel River tasting New Latitude wines in Bangkok

March 18, 2013

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Gran Monte Syrah grapes in Khao Yai

Recently a good old friend from high school times, Thomas Weber from Trier and his wife Birgit, visited Thailand for a holiday. Since Thomas is a kind of a wine geek, someone who has written two books about wine, and who knows every vintner along the Mosel river, I intended to introduce him to a selection of New Latitude wines.

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The two wineries I had in mind where GranMonte Family Winery and PB Valley Wines, both located in the Asoke Valley in Khao Yai, Thailand. Unfortunately, Thomas did not have sufficient time to go and visit the vineyards in person. Therefore I decided to bring the vineyards to him.

We did two tastings, one shortly after his arrival in Bangkok, the second one the evening before his departure. The first wine tasting took place in our home. I had selected three wines (one white and two reds), all from GranMonte Family Winery.

We started with the ‘2012 Viognier’, according to some critics the best white wine Gran Monte has ever made. Thomas was amazed that such an outstanding wine could be produced here in Thailand (I provided him with a farewell gift, guess what it was?).

We followed up with two Gran Monte Syrah wines, the ‘2010 Hermitage Syrah’ and the ‘2009 Orient Syrah’. This was the first time that Thomas had ever tasted wines grown in the tropics, or, as they are also, called ‘new latitude wines’.

He was amazed by the high standard and the outstanding quality of the wines. All of them fully satisfied his expert palate pampered by vintage after vintage of excellent wines from the Mosel. The Thai wines from Gran Monte can positively compare with any wines from Europe, that was the verdict after the first round of tastings.

The second wine tasting was conducted over a dinner (forgive me that I skip the food here) at the Great Hornbill Bistro in Soi 39 Sukhumvit in Bangkok. This place is the Bangkok cellar door of PB Valley Khaoyai Winery.

Again we tasted three wines, one white and two reds. We started with the ‘2012 Pirom Khao Yai Reserve Chenin Blanc’, an excellent vintage and very enjoyable wine. We liked it so much that we consumed quite a few bottles with our entrees. Only for the main course we switched to red.

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The Cabernet-Dornfelder blend is being decanted

First we had a bottle of ‘2011 Pirom Khao Yai Tempranillo’. The wine had a beautiful aroma but the somehow ‘green (gemuesig) taste’ disappointed a little. The more we were looking forward to the ‘2010 Cabernet Dornfelder cuvée’. It had time to breathe after the decanting. This wine, an unusual blend, did not disappoint. It displayed its character, was full of flavor, had structure and an excellent finish.

The surprise of the evening was, that Mr. Gaksch had reserved for us a bottle of the lovely PB Valley Lychee Schnaps so that we could harmoniously end our Thai wine tasting.

The overall verdict is that Thailand produces outstanding wines and that more needs to be done to bring this good message to the world of wine.

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The happy tasting party

I strongly advised Thomas to come back again, and instead of spending time at Thai beaches, go and visit Thai wineries and enjoy the pleasure their excellent wines provide the casual and the “un-casual” drinker.
Spread the gospel.