From Fine Dining To Farm: The Story Of Thailand’s GranMonte Vineyard Told In Reverse For Its 25th Anniversary

In two award-winning heritage-inspired fine dining restaurants in the Thai capital, Potong and Nusara, wines from GranMonte Vineyard, part of the GranMonte Estate, in Isaan Province’s Khao Yai – a blushing rosé, and a full-bodied Syrah and Viognier blend – are served alongside the kind of New World and Old World wines you’d expect to taste.

Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt

It shows the city’s sommeliers growing trust in the produce of the vineyard that officially only opened in 2009, which also means that it’s currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. 

The restful and reclusive GrandMonte Estate.
GranMonte Estate and Vineyard, locked in the loving arms of the hills that envelope the Asoke Valley.

From Novelty To Respected New Latitude Wines

Phuengthum Khathipphathee, the sommelier at Restaurant Potong, Bangkok – at #19 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2023 – pours an easy-drinking red wine into the glass over a main course. Four kilometers away, Tam Chaisiri Tassanakajohn, the sommelier at Nusara – a heady #3 in the same Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list – does the same, only this one is an amber-hued rosé, to pair with an appetizer upstairs before the menu really begins in the dining room.

Remarkably, both wines are Thai, part of a growing global number of new-latitude wines, meaning wines from latitudes once seen unfit for viticulture, from . And both come from the same vineyard, in the GranMonte Estate, in Khao Yai.

Indulging In Some Escapism

Khao Yai, on the fringe of Isaan, Thailand’s largest province is known for its slap-around-the-face spicy food, its steely Thai boxers, and its resilient ethnic attitude. 

It’s a popular weekend escape from the capital. Bangkok residents usually choose between Hua Hin, Pattaya and Khao Yai for a short getaway. And while the former two offer differing degrees of balmy beachside bliss, Khao Yai is something else altogether – a verdant national park with rampaging elephants, a hotel made from train carriages, sun-kissed vineyards, and cowboys (more on that later).  

Harvesting grapes in Thailand
The grapes are picked at night when it’s cooler.

Youthful Experimentation

Locked in the loving arms of the hills that envelope the Asoke Valley where the winery is located, close to the entrance to the Khao Yai National Park, around 2 ½ hours from Bangkok, is the GranMonte Estate. On the way up, the road is dotted with ranches and farms, where visitors come for nights of hog roasts, and hay bales and bourbon – cowboy culture prevails up here, perhaps because of the rolling, prairie-like hills and Khao Yai’s frontier town spirit.

Then you reach the endless sloping hills of the Asoke Valley, a rarefied 350 meters above sea level, which are lined with a dizzying 28 grape varieties — some that become core GranMonte products, like the vineyard’s signature The Orient Syrah, and others that are small batch or experimental, like their 2023 Bussaba Natural Sweet Wine.

In Bordeaux, which produces the most fine wines in the world, the wide number of grape varieties – there are 13 permitted Bordeaux grapes – insulates the southwestern French port city’s produce against the iniquities of the Atlantic-coast weather, because whatever the weather, something should succeed. 

In Khao Yai, the extensive grape varieties are experimental – testing out what works in the vineyard’s red clay soil. Considering that winemaking began in Bordeaux probably when the Romans ruled the land from around 60 BC, youthful is an understatement for Thai wine which only started to be produced in Khao Yai in the mid-1990s.

Nikki the first and only fully-qualified winemaker in Thailand

A Family Affair At GranMonte 

The whole family – Visooth and his wife Sakuna, and their two daughters Mimi and Nikki  –  are there to greet us in the yard in front of the visitors’ center when we arrive, and to pass around some of their award-winning Granmonte Crémant Extra Brut, which they only produce 4,000 bottles of per year.

Mimi and Nikki look alike, only Mimi is chattier, as gently effervescent as the Crémant. Nikki is quieter and slightly pre-occupied – clearly with the constant work at the newly expanded winery on her mind and the “new stuff and new toys” she says she has to play with. 

Nikki was the one, after growing up around the vineyard, to take a bachelor’s degree in oenology with honors in viticulture at the University of Adelaide on her way to becoming the first and only fully-qualified winemaker in Thailand, and the general manager, oenologist and winemaker at GranMonte. 

Visooth, by the way, acts as CEO and managing director, Sakuna the president, and Mimi is the Director of PR and Marketing (hence the chattiness). 

Dishes at VinCotto
VinCotto restaurant, at GranMonte Estate.

Restful And Reclusive

The valley lends the vineyard a restful and reclusive air. There were corn and cashews growing here when the visionary Visooth Lohitnavy bought the plot in 1999, but the long-term investment only started to yield results with the official opening of the vineyard in 2009 (although they’d started cultivating the vines in the years immediately after buying the land.)

Past the visitors’ center and gift shop, with shelves of home-made grappa and Thai cheeses for sale, there’s the GranMonte tasting room, where they’re currently serving a four-glass tasting flight to a handful of contented guests. They’re kicking off with the Thai vineyard’s new release 2020 GranMonte Verdelho, followed by the 2022 Sakuna Rosé, the 2019 Heritage Syrah Viognier, and their 1029 The Orient Syrah. 

After that is the farmhouse-style restaurant, VinCotto, with its upturned barrels as display tables and chalkboard menus that insist guests “eat local, drink local.” 

And then, a little way on, is the newly rebuilt, fortress-like winery, and then five guest rooms, or Wine Cottages – cutesy, chalet-type doubles (from around USD $90 per night) with GranMonte wines in the minibar and up-close views of the lush greenery of the hillside as it slopes away from the window at the back.

“It’s great for people who want to get away and want to experience staying in a vineyard,” Mimi smiles. “And the best views are from the rooms!”

A Thai vineyard tour at GranMonte
A grape-purple buggy takes visitors on a tour of the GranMonte vineyard.

Reassuringly Little To Do

It’s true. Out front, the ground floor Wine Cottage is so close to the vineyard you can almost reach out and pick the Viognier grapes from the vines right outside. That is if the grapes are in season. 

We’re visiting in August, and the grapes have already been harvested in February, to avoid the rains, and they were picked at night, when it’s cooler. Right now, the vineyard is in the process of producing its 100,000 bottles per year 

Year-round – outside of harvest time – there’s reassuringly little to do: bicycle around the 40-acre GranMonte Estate, or ride down the street hoping to catch sight of an elephant or two eyeing a way in through the beefed-up perimeter fencing, or taking the vineyard tour where Nikki, or one of the team, do a walk through of the winery and then take guests on a electric-powered buggy tour of the vines outside, pointing out the oldest – their 24-year-old chenin blanc vines – and some of the youngest – experimental rows of Portuguese Alvarinho grapes that are producing some fresh, acidic new wines.

The harvest season, a month-long festival of events and activations – is another matter. GranMonte lets guests go out into the fields to gather grapes (quickly switching them out for their matured wines when brunch arrives). 

And they bring in an all-star line-up of guests to host the brunches – this year there’s the team from new Isaan cuisine pioneers Samuay & Sons, from Isaan’s north-eastern city of Udon Thani, MICHELIN-Star Chef Chumpol, and the team from nearby warehouse-like, MICHELIN-Selected, gateway drug to Isaan cuisine, Penlaos.

Mimi and Nikki at GranMonte Vineyard
Nikki [left] and Mimi in the vineyard that has, according to Mimi, “gone from novelty to respected new latitude wine producer in it’s 25 years.”

More Than Flying The Flag 

But back in Bangkok, as dinner service starts, Phuengthum and Tam turn again to happily serving GranMonte wines to their guests who have made it through the long waiting list to dine there.

“I find the 2020 Granmonte Heritage, Syrah/Viognier 2020 to be a unique blend,” Phuengthum tells us. “The aromas of red berries, dark cherries as well as some floral notes, some vanilla and fresh pepper, I feel, go well with the Chinese-influenced Thai food we serve at Potong. Also, being Thai myself, I think we’ve reached the level in Thai wine where we can proudly showcase it to our guests.”

“For me, this hand-crafted wine, which uses the champagne method, with beautiful bubbles, is the best sparkling rosé available, full stop,” Tam tells us approvingly.

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