A visit to Khao Yai especially during the grape harvest season is more than just a weekend alternative to the beach.
Yes, Virginia, Thailand makes its own wine. Thailand pioneered the so-called “New Latitude of Wine” between the 14th and 18th parallels in the Northern Hemisphere and today the 240-acre Khao Yai region, one of the three distinct wine regions of Thailand, is recognized for producing the best quality grape wines in the country.
Every year, usually between mid-January and February, wine connoisseurs and their ilk flock to Khao Yai. It’s because several vineyards in the region holds a “Harvest Festival” at this time not only to celebrate the season of grape and wine, but also to showcase the scenery and various offerings at each vineyard. This year, the wine harvest festivals are being held this month because the grapes were delayed by about three weeks due to the drought, says a source from one of the vineyards. The normal pruning time for Khao Yai grapes is September and October.
That said, the four major Khao Yai wineries are all ready for this year’s much-awaited festival, which has built a reputation as a not-to-be missed fun-filled activity for wine lovers and their friends.
PB Valley will hold its “Harvest Festival” on Feb. 27, while GranMonte Vineyard and Winery has set its “Pick of the Season 2016” event on Feb. 13 and 14.
What can we expect from this year’s “Harvest Festivals”? The program varies from vineyard to vineyard but as what GranMonte is organizing this year, an exciting lineup of activities await.
“Every year, the arrival of the wine grape harvest season is heralded by a festival at our estate in Khao Yai, open to the public,” says Nikki Lohitnavy, heiress to the GranMonte estate and Thailand’s first female winemaker. “We will have booths of various activities such as dinner party and harvest competitions for holidaying couples and families, including snacks, farm produce stalls, a Wine Bar in the Vineyard, and activity booths for children on Feb. 13-14. Entry to daytime festivities, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., will be free of charge on both days.”
The GranMonte theme for this year is “Tropical Harvest Weekend (Email: marketing @granmonte.com or call 081-734-7049 and 081-488-4490). While the main events are happening on Feb. 13-14, GranMonte’s “Harvest Promotion” runs for the entire month.
Guests can enjoy the full atmosphere of the harvest season with vineyard tours, grape picking, winery tour, wine tasting, and souvenir for the whole week. Prices vary depending on your booking, weekdays or weekends.
For Village Farm, the festival starts with winetasting and cocktails at 5 p.m., then a dinner at 7p.m. At about 9 p.m., a local band will lead the guests to the vineyard to help harvest grapes. Village Farm has two harvest dates this year, said 1st general manager, Viravadee Cholvanich.
Meanwhile, PB Valley’s harvest festivities on Feb. 27 will feature a tour of the vineyards, including a grape picking competition, grape stomping demonstration, horse-riding show with beautiful And alusian horses, introduction of wines by the in-house winemaker, a pre-dinner cocktail and a BBQ Buffet with live band performances. Special offers on wines of the estate will also be available. Besides the Harvest Festival program, PB Valley has announced that due to increasing demand, the Wine Tasting Tours will be increased from the usual three. “We will have five schedules: at 9-10:30am, at noon, and at 1:30 to 3:30 pm, “ says Herbert
PB Valley Kliao Yai Winery is of course the first to grow wine grapes and set up a modern winery in the Khao Yai area thus is called the “Birthplace of the Khao Yai Wine Region.” Khun Prayut, the winemaker of PB Valley, is the first Thai who has studied oenology and winemaking and is thus Thailand’s first winemaker.
We failed to reached Alcidini for its Harvest Festival program.
Because Khao Yai located in the driest part of the country the northeast, with a high elevation that gives cool and dry conditions during the ripening period, the wine regions of Khai Yai are all worth a visit not only for the grapes and wine but also for the scenery and offering at each winery or vineyard. The wine region has four major vineyards, namely: PB Valley, GranMonte, and Alcidini to the west and Village Farm to the east.
Owned by Dr. Piya Bhirombhadki, the visionary entrepreneur and owner of Boonrawd Brewery, PB Valley is where the region’s first vines were planted. Dr. Piya’s pioneering rootstock were Shiraz and Chenin Blanc from France and tempranillo from Spain. He declared his first vintage in 1998 and since then, his vineyard has expanded to 80 hectares sitting at 320-360m above sea level. The varieties now include Dornfelder, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. PB’s contribution to wine tourism has been recognized so many times, and it has won, among others, the Golden Tourism Awards (Kinaree Awards of Excellence), the Oscar of Thailand’s travel industry — in the agro-tourism sector. PB Valley Khao Yai Winery 102 Moo 5, Phaya Yen, Pak Chong // Tel: 036 226 415/6 // Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gran Monte planted their first Shiraz and Chenin Blanc vines in the Asoke Valley. What put them on the wine map was their daughter Nikki who graduated in oenology from University of Adelaide and returned to Thailand to become the country’s first female winemaker. Her white and rose wines are clean and crisp, with tropical fruit characteristics sealed under screw caps. Hubert de Bourard from Chateau Angelus from St Emilion, Bordeaux, mentored her on her red wines, teaching her that a large part of winemaking is the work done in the vineyard. They were the first Thai winery to produce an estate fruit cabernet sauvignon. Visitors can eat exquisite home-style food at VinCotto Restaurant and sleep in their seven-room Tuscan-style guesthouse. GranMonte Vineyard & Wines 52 Moo 9 Phayayen, Pak Chong// Tel: 044 009 543/4
To complete the western trilogy, head to Aldicini, which is a hillside winery, located at an elevation of 550m. It consists of 20 acres of mostly Shiraz, with a few rows of Muscat Blau just because they can. The Terra Rosa soil has a lime base with ample minerals and good drainage, ideal to cultivate quality wane grapes. They are the only users of the Lyre Trellis system that assists canopy management with having enough foliage to facilitate photosynthesis without excessive shade, which would impede the ripening. Alcidini 176 Moo 2, Pak Chong //Tel 080 784 6969 //Email: email@example.com// www.alcidini.com
Village Farm is located at Baan Pai Ngam village in Wang Nam Keaw district, where villagers previously grew corn and potatoes. It began in the same era as GranMonte when Viravat Cholvanich planted his 80 acres of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon at an altitude of 500m above sea level on the southwestern edge of Korat Plateau, between Tublan and the national park. Chateau de Brumes Winery was designed and built by Jacques Bacou, the owner/winemaker of Chateau du Roc in Corbiers. The grapes are harvested in the cool of the night to ensure they are safely stored before sunrise. The grapes are then pressed and the wine is made using traditional French winemaking techniques by a combined Thai/ French team. Village Farm & Winery 103 Moo 7, Thaisamakee, Wang Nam Keow //Tel: 044 223 407/8 //Email: booking, villagefarm@gmai l.co m // w w w. villagefarm.co.th
A visit to Thailand s own wine country is a weekend alternative to the beach. Explore by bicycle and sleep, eat and drink in the vineyards. There is often a shroud of mist at dawn before the sunrises over the dusky hills to the east. After 8 p.m. the nights are cool and a jacket or jumper is recommended. — with additional info from Laurence Civil
HOW TO GET THERE
Leaving Bangkok, drive north on Phahonyhotin Road and then take the elevated expressway passing Don Muang Airport. Before Ayutthaya, head northeast in the direction of Saraburi, then continue on the Mittraphap Expressway leading to Nakhon Ratchasima up to Pak Chong, about 45km from Saraburi. From Pak Chong, the national park is at the end of Thanarad Road, south of Pak Chong. The park entrance is about 20km from the expressway exit, and the park headquarters are located about 10km south from the park entrance. One of the best ways to explore the wine, food and scenery is by bicycle, and while it is best to bring your own; mountain bikes can he hired for around THB 100 an hour.
WHY GO “” Even if you’re not into wine and vineyards, the Kliao Yai Region beckons as a destination. Besides seeing one of the oldest and best-known nature sanctuaries in Thailand — an Asean and UNESCO World Heritage Site even – there is so much to enjoy: the cool weather, the diverse flora and the fauna, the variety of eco-tourism attractions and activities, and yes, the several vineyards just outside the national park. The vineyards are all set amid beautiful and varied landscapes and especially at this time of year.
The wine harvest season, winch runs from November to March every year, enhances the region’s peaceful aura, environmentally friendly atmosphere, not to mention its beautiful scenery and temperate climate. The wineries have their own on-site accommodation (with restaurants and other services and facilities) and offer activities and tours
- wine tours are becoming popular
- for a different, enjoyable holiday experience.
WHAT TO DO “” Until recently, most people did not associate wine tours with the so-called traditional Thai holiday experience and hence, joining one can be very exciting. All the vineyards now offer professionally conducted, tailor-made, wine tours, which can include – depending on the winery organizing them – private wine tasting, wine and fine dining pairing, vineyards and winery visits and strolls, cellar-door shopping, wine classes, and in some, even wine spa and Thai massage. It might also be interesting for visitors to witness first-hand sustainable and experimental viticulture (as in Gran Monte), meeting the winemaker and how they support the local community.
Of course, if those are not enough for you, you can book other activities such as visits to waterfalls, enjoying the nearby theme parks, and several world-class golf courses. The nearby Chokchai Farm – producer of meat and dairy products – might also be interesting to some.
WHEN TO GO– November to March are best times to visit
SEE– ” Each vineyard has an interesting story to tell as well as tons of activities on offer but the rest of the Kliao Yai National Park also makes for great sightseeing program, if you are interested in nature and have time to spare.
EAT “” At the Khao Yai Wine Region tours, wine and fine dining is intrinsic part of the experience. PE> Valley has two restaurants offering scenic views, and Western and Thai specialties partly matched to the wines grown in the estate. The 200-seater Great Hombill Grill Restaurant with over 100 menus prepared in their unique style.
GranMonte’s VinCotto Restaurant is located in the most scenic part of the estate. It specializes 111 home-style cooking served in generous portions at affordable prices. Every dish on the menu is Sakuna Lohitnavy’s culinary creation, and can be enjoyed amid the vineyard surroundings and the park’s mountain range.
Village Farm has two restaurants that epitomize country living at its best: The Old Bam, which serves delightful European cuisine; and The Restaurant.
SLEEP “” All the vineyards offer accommodation. The Great Hombill Nest is located near the Great Hombill Grill amid gardens and vineyards. All cottages are located on top of the hill above the vineyards.
At Village Farm accommodation concept is one of country living with style and comfort. Private and exclusive accommodation is available at The Guest House @ Granmonte. Alternatively, you can elect to book a hotel or resort anywhere in Kliao Yai, and many are within minutes reach from the vineyards.
At Escape Khao Yai, a Sansiri property, one can relax and hangout amid the mountains and fresh air, underneath the iridescence of the twinkling fairy lit trees on the hotel’s lawn. Hotel rooms at Escape Khao Yai (Tel: 092 8232590, email reservation – khaoyai@escape-hotel. com) including breakfast for two, start at only THB 3,200 net per night from Sunday to Thursday nights, and THB 3,700 net per night on Friday and Saturday nights, until Feb. 29 only.
Villa Malinee Khao Yai (Tel: 082 5633444) offers pleasant accommodation with variety of amenities. Situated 7km from the main road among the nice scenery of Khao Yai, it’s an ideal place for those who want tranquility but stay close to all key destinations. The hotel has that special intimate atmosphere which makes you feel like you’re in your own home. Villa Malinee style mixes valuable antiques and original artworks with contemporary twist. Each spacious seven rooms offer contemporary comfort and amenities in the unique European style.
Birder’s Lodge (Tel: 089- 077-1159, 086-514-9874; www.birderslodge.com) Perfect for bird-watchers, as the name implies, you’ll be sleeping in an air-con tent equipped with hotel amenities under the trees, plus you have the added bonus of being just next door to Primo Posto at Birder’s Lodge. Of course, there are many other forms of accommodation, to suit your kind of preferences and budget.
Khao Yai National Park – Travelers from Isan (Northeast), Bangkok, and beyond often visit the national park. The fee is THB 400 for foreigners (THB 200 for children), and THB 40 for Thais or Thai residents, plus THB 50. Food is available from private concessions within the park as are bicycles.
Kayaking and rafting services are also available. You can also enjoy “wildlife spotting” – an evening activity — available via pick-up trucks in the early evening. Sightings are usually limited to deer and civet cats, but sometimes elephants too. There are also slideshow presentations at the visitor center on weekends and public holidays (10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.) and meeting rooms are available for seminars and workshops.
For those who are so-inclined, there are camping zones in the area too. You can bring your own tent or rent one at the camping ground, and lodges and cabins are available for singles and groups. There are over 50km of Inking trails – some take just one-hour to do, others take three days.
For animal watchers, the observation towers at Nong Pak Chee or Mo Sing offer an opportunity to see Great Hornbills, gaur, and sometimes elephants (in the early morning). Gibbons are common too, and at 5:30 p.m. thousands of wrinkled lipped bats emerge from a cave 3km outside the northern gate for their dinner.
Paleontologist “wannabes” might be interested to see dinosaur’s footprints at the Klong Pa Kang- Wang Haew (but you may need a four-day trek to see a dinosaur footprint!). And of course, the waterfalls: Haew Marok, Haew Suwat, Haew Sai and Haew Pratoon – for that something exhilarating in your trip.