Raise a glass! Thai wines winning global respect

Raise a glass! Thai wines winning global respect

We look into the hype surrounding Thai wine and discover some frustrating obstacles holding it back
Siam Winery
Siam Winery's Hua Hin vineyards, like most in Thailand, are open for year-round wine tours.

This might come as a surprise, but the story of Thai wine actually began over 30 years ago, when a royal project under the auspices of HM the King started experimenting with grape planting in the region. It was found that certain areas in Thailand, where the climate is more Mediterranean than tropical, were conducive to grapes and vineyards. 

But it wasn’t until 1995 that the first Thai wine went on sale, under the label Chateau de Loei. Founded by Dr Chaijudh Karnasuta, it was the first Thai wine to be exported to both Europe and Japan. 

“While Thai wines might have existed for some time, it’s only in the last three or four years that it has really come in on its own,” explains Kim Wachtveitl, director of business development at Siam Winery

Siam Winery is probably the most successful business of its kind in Thailand. Its Monsoon Valley label certainly commands the biggest market share in Thailand and has garnered numerous awards and accolades along the way. Their vineyards are located in the hills surrounding Hua Hin but that is not the only region where wine is made. 

Thai winesMonsoon Valley has won several international awards.The six members of the Thai Wine Association, including Chateau de Loei and Monsoon Valley, are spread throughout the country. Four of the other members are located near Khao Yai National Park, while one is situated in the eastern seaboard area, near Pattaya. Though some money is made from the sale of wine, many of the wineries support themselves by offering packaged wine tours that offer both fine wine and a picturesque getaway.

Quality control and blind tastings

The Thai Wine Association itself was formed in 2004 to set a standard and barometer for Thai Wines. Each member had to sign a quality charter and undergo independent and blind testings. They also must submit wine to third party labs for stringent checks. This improvement has since been commented on by some of the most notable wine critics in the region, including the likes of Robert Parker.

As CNN reported earlier this year, in blind tastings local white wines can be mistaken for their European counterparts, proving that at the very least local wines are competitive. Kim adds that “rose wine also has come a long way in Thailand with an almost Provence taste.”

Critics agree that the red wines are the weakness in Thailand's vino make up, as the climate isn’t the most suitable or conducive to the grapes needed. 
That being said there is increasing demand around the world for Thai wines. Siam Winery alone exports to over 18 countries in Europe, North America and Asia. The United Kingdom is the largest importer of Thai wines and that is due mostly to their abundance of Thai restaurants.

Road blocks ahead

While the business aspect of Thai wines is certainly flourishing and growing steadily, business developers including Kim express massive frustrations with the Thai government. Not only do they not support Thai wines but the companies themselves are taxed regularly and heavily (as high as 200%) as part of the authorities’ crackdown on ‘immorality.’ Because of the stringent regulations placed by the Thai government on everything alcohol related the local industry also suffers when the government fails to protect it against unfair treaties like the ASEAN trade agreement.

For instance, Kim notes that India’s wine industry started out much later than Thailand’s but because it is heavily supported by the Indian government they are on the verge of overtaking the Thai Wine industry in terms of both quality and quantity. They have research centers and information sharing, sponsored by the government and local universities. In Thailand you simply don't see any of that.

“In Thailand the wine industry remains a business of individuals and pioneers,” says Kim. With political instability and changing governments things look set to continue that way for some time.  

Satrusayang is a part-time dragon slayer, part-time writer. When he's not defending fair maidens and tangling with mystical beasts he visits reality (never a permanent stay) where he writes for a living. Based in Bangkok, his work has appeared in myriad magazines and publications, and he edits his own literary and art ezine http://codsbeenhere.com.

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