Disclosure: We visited GranMonte at the invitation of the owners who provided us with food, wine, lodging, and an awesome time.
It’s been half a year now since Nina and I visited GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery in Thailand’s Khao Yai region. I published an article on Palate Press about our experience there (you can find that article here), but I wanted to expand a bit, because the word limit on Palate Press cut into my usual wordiness when it comes to winemakers…
As I indicated in the Palate Press article, I was initially skeptical of winery operations in Thailand and could not quite believe that a tropical climate was very suitable for the attempt. But my fellow blogger Rainer The Man from Mosel River, who at the time was living in Bangkok, convinced me to get in touch with the owners Visooth and Sakuna Lohitnavy, and see for myself. So, after our eight week whirlwind through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and fresh from Railay Beach, we embarked on the two and a half hour bus ride to Khao Yai. Khao Yai is a natural reserve in Eastern Thailand. The landscape is gorgeously hilly and lushly green. When we arrived at the drop off city Muak Lek, a driver from GranMonte was waiting for us and took us to the winery, which is nestled between hills and sits on property that Visooth’s father owned in Asoke Valley and which was previously used for corn and cashew production. I wasn’t prepared for how excited I would get by seeing vineyards after several months…it’s little joys that make the journey worthwhile, I guess…:)
Let me give you some background on the winery: GranMonte was founded in 1999 by Visooth Lohitnavy and his wife Sakuna. It started on approximately 12 acres, and now has reached a size of about 36 acres. The family opened a state of the art wine making facility in 2009 which has a maximum capacity of 120,000 bottles, although currently it produces around 90,000 bottles a year. GranMonte currently makes wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin blanc, Syrah, Viognier, Semillon, Verdelho, and Durif grapes.
The winemaker is Nikki Lohitnavy, Sakuna and Visooth’s daughter, who grew up on the property and decided at a young age that she wanted to get into wine making. She studied at winemaking at the University of Adelaide, Australia, and is Thailand’s only female oenologist to date. For her young age, she has a ton of experience including harvesting and making wine in France, Brazil, and Portugal. She is full of energy and passion, entertaining and adventurous. We were glad to spend a considerable amount of time with her. It never ceases to amaze me how much passion these young winemakers bring to their job, and in that she reminded me a lot of some of the young winemakers I was fortunate to meet along the Mosel and in Rheinhessen. But Nikki seems even more impressive to me, because she was not born into a wine culture like most of the winemakers I know. So she does not have that background that many can rely on, and still is doing an outstanding job.
It is her and her father’s enthusiasm that is visible in the whole winery endeavor: They use top notch modern equipment like five weather monitoring stations that not just measure the weather but also the soil’s humidity, which has led to a marked reduced in their need (or perceived need) for watering. The vineyards are impeccably maintained. Being a young winery in a new wine region, they experiment with a ton of things, like harvesting grapes twice a year (turns out that’s not such a good idea since the vines just get very tired), or growing Riesling (also not a good idea, because the warm weather is not good for the cool climate grape). I really enjoyed seeing this adventurism at work, and it was great how open the family shared with us…
It’s impossible not to notice how much detail goes into everything: The staff at the winery’s tasting room is courteous and knowledgeable, the wait staff at the winery’s exquisite restaurant Vin Cotto just as attentive and hospitable. Every dish we tried was very well executed (I had an outstanding coq au vin, just to name one dish!).
What struck us the most during our dinner with our hosts was how food compatible the wines were. An example that stood out was the 2012 Heritage Syrah, one of their top line wines. We drank this wine with steaks that came with spicy oils: a more medium spicy Thai dip, and an insanely spicy tip with Brazilian chili peppers. My mouth BURNED! And yet, the Heritage Syrah was cutting through it like it was nothing. That was a stunning experience.
The wines we were able to try were good to very good, and impressed us quite a bit. There is a lot of craft and skill going into them, and I can only see them get better as Nikki keeps experimenting and learning. I will write up some of my tasting notes in an extra post.
All in all, we had a great experience at GranMonte. It is a perfect place to kick back and relax, enjoy some great Thai wine, and very good Western food. I assume it is not on many people’s bucket list, but the natural beauty of Khao Yai National Park can definitely be an attraction off the beaten path. Thailand, it turns out, is not just for beaches, but has joined the growing universe of wine production. And quite impressively so. I hope you can make a trip there and see, but more importantly, taste for yourself what they have to offer.
You can reach GranMonte, which is around 160 kilometers north east of Bangkok, via a taxi, bus, or mini-bus. I recommend getting in touch with the winery first, they can present you with good options on how to get there. We took the mini-bus and it was comfortable and cheap. GranMonte also has a gorgeous guesthouse overlooking the vineyards. You can find GranMonte’s contact information here.