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By Timothy France; source from : cnngo.com|
At Hua Hin Hills, visitors can tour the vineyard on an elephant. Can't do that in Burgundy or Tuscany.
Thailand's wine-making industry has come a long way. No longer causing connoisseurs to recoil in horror at first sniff, these days locally-produced labels are served by high-end Thai restaurants and exported abroad.
But it wasn't an easy path. About 20 years ago Thailand took to wine producing with its characteristic defiance of international norms, rejecting the age-old traditions that say wine grapes can't be grown further south than Cairo or Lhasa.
Breaking those rules, vineyards across Thailand's three distinguished winemaking regions now produce quality wine 1,770 kilometers further south than old school thinking dictates.
These are the 'new latitude wines', and although they don't rate highly alongside famous French vintages, wine lovers should swallow their skepticism before condemning Thai wines to the cooking pot.
For a closer look at Thailand’s growing wine industry, get out of Bangkok and take a wine tour. Most of the country's revered vineyards, featured here, offer visitors a chance to get off the heavily beaten tourist track and see how grapes are grown and wines are made.
Chateau de Loei's vineyard is in northeast Thailand, better known for spicy Isaan food than wine.
The northern wine region could be a little far flung for a weekend getaway from Bangkok, but well worth a visit if you’re in the area. It is home to the Chateau de Loei winery, whose wines are made under the guidance of Australian and French experts.
Chateau de Loiei, near the Laos border in the Phu Rua Valley, is viewed as one of the pioneers of the Thai wine industry, putting its first bottle on the market in 1995.
Visitors are welcome to take a tour of the vineyards. Pick up a pass in the shop at the vineyard entrance.
220 Mu 6 Tambon Rong Chik, Amphoe Phu Ruea, Loei. +66 (0) 2319 5390
Khao Yai A more convenient destination for Bangkok’s wine tasters is the scenic Khao Yai National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an ideal rural getaway for city-slickers, with several vineyards just outside the park gates and beautiful landscapes.
These days, Khao Yai's wineries are nearly as famous as the wildlife.
Khao Yai's cool hills envelope PB Valley's Khao Yai Winery, whose wines have been served aboard Thai Airways International Flights and to APEC heads of state.
For 200 baht, visitors are taken on a guided tour of the vineyard and winery before getting a taste of the sweet and fruity vino. And if you feel the need to indulge further, the Great Hornbill Grill Restaurant, with panoramic views of the estate, serves Thai and Western food to complement the local plonk.
In case you get carried away, the Khao Yai Winery offers accommodation to couples, families and groups in secluded dwellings dotted between the vines.
GranMonte is another well known Thai wine maker from the Khao Yai region that offers complementary tours every weekend. If the wine impresses, visitors can pick up a case or two from the cellar door. There is also grape juice, jams, cookies and salad dressings to choose from, all made with the vineyard’s grapes.
Before setting off settle your stomach in GranMonte's VinCotto restaurant with its home-style cooking. Alternatively, spend the night at GranMonte's Guest House on the slopes of the Asoke Valley where you can soak up the views and the booze all weekend.
Khao Yai Winery: 102 Moo 5, Phaya Yen, Pak Chong, Nakorn Ratchasima. Tel: +66 (0)3 622 6415. GranMonte: 52 Moo 9 Phayayen, Pakchong, Nakornrachasima. +66 (0)8 192 3200
South of Bangkok
Monsoon Valley is often served at high-end dinners in Bangkok.
Located 60 kilometres south of Bangkok in Samut Sakhon, Siam Winery is responsible for the award-winning Chatemp and Monsoon Valley wines. The bulk of its grapes come from "floating vineyards" in the Chao Phraya Delta.
Just one hour’s drive from the capital, wannabe wine buffs are welcome to join daily tours and taste their wines. Lunch is also available, and for an additional fee visitors can take a short trip to the floating vineyards where the vines are planted on islands separated by canals.
Siam Winery also owns another vineyard just outside Hua Hin. Hua Hin Hills contributes most of the grapes that go into the brand's Monsoon Valley range. Again there is a restaurant, but its pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the elephant tour of the vineyard, giving it that Thai touch.
Siam Winery: 9/2 Moo 3, Tumbon Bangtorud,, Mueang District, Samut Sakhon. +66 (0)3 484 5334. Hua Hin Hills: 204 Moo9, Baan khork Chang Patana, Nong Plup, Hua Hin. + 66 (0)81 701 0222
Package toursIndependent visitors are always welcome to tour Thailand's major vineyards, but there are a few tour operators who run trips to all of the major wine growing regions, taking in a vineyard or two, waterfalls and temples.
The costs for a one-day or two-day trip are not insignificant, but you will get collected and dropped-off at your door in Bangkok and all arrangements will be taken care of.
For something really unique, bike tour company Spice Roads Asia offers a two-day tour of Khao Yai's wine trails that includes the national park and other surrounding attractions and wine tasting.
The price is 7,750 baht person, which includes accommodation and meals.
Originally published June 2010, updated March 201