Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Wine From Tropical Thailand? These Pioneers Are Proving It Can Be Done

Age-old traditions say wine grapes can't be grown outside of the 30-50° latitude. But at latitude 14.3, over 1,700 kilometers closer to the equator, lies the vineyards of the PB Valley Khao Yai Winery. Winemaking pioneers in Thailand’s mountainous Khao Yai district corked their first bottle in 1998 and have since been served to heads of state. Photographs by Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

PB Valley Estate sits on the edge of the Khao Yai National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about two hours north of the bustling Thai capital Bangkok.

The vineyard was named after its founder Piya Bhirombhakdi, a member of the billionaire family that brews Singha beer. 

While PB Valley was first planted with Shiraz and Chenin Blanc grapes, the 400-hectare site now boasts vines from France, Spain, Italy and Germany.

Grapes are harvested once a year between January and March, before temperatures soar across Thailand. Average temperatures at PB Valley, which sits about 350 meters above sea level, range from 15-28 degrees Celsius (59-82 degrees Fahrenheit).

The local wine association has been pushing for greater international recognition for Thailand's “new latitude wines.”

The cool, dry weather during Khao Yai's winter months creates a microclimate that supports grape cultivation.

PB Valley says its wines have received gold and silver awards at blind-tasting competitions including the Decanter Awards and AWC Vienna.

Shiraz, Tempranillo, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dornfelder, Merlot and Durif grapes are aged in stainless steel tanks, oak vats or French oak barrels for up to 21 months.

While the popularity of wine is growing among Thais, spirits still account for 73 percent of all alcohol consumed in the country and beer has a 27 percent share of the market, according to the World Health Organization.

PB Valley's chief winemaker Prayut Piangbunta became Thailand's first vintner after making the switch from Boonrawd Brewery's beer business in the mid 1990s.

Where wine once couldn't be made, Thailand now crushes 1,000 tons of grapes, producing about 800,000 bottles of wine each year.