East is exotic for various reasons, but wine is not a part of those reasons. So when we were told we are driving out of Hua Hin to do some New Latitude wines tasting, my curiosity went up by a few notches. The road leading to Hua Hin Hills Vineyard was deserted and passed through many fields, hillocks that eventually gave way to rolling hills forming layers of peaks and valleys.
New Latitude Wines, Thailand
We were led to a plush restaurant overlooking the 500+ acre vineyards. With hills in the background and a golden stupa or was it a temple standing tall on one of them. There were wooden barrels used in the décor. A wine counter had three layers of glasses lined up for tasting. Soon we were served white, rosette and red wine in these glasses. The connoisseurs of wine made their opinions. And I heard words like ‘light bodied’, ‘adequately dry’. Honestly, I could understand them very little. But the wine bottles in a large glass bowl filled with ice and in 3 different colors of wine in glasses looked beautiful. Grape juice was served for people who did not taste wine.
Technically called Siam Winery, this winery produces the romantically named range of wines called Monsoon Valley wines since 1996. We were told this is the oldest and the largest winery in Thailand. The owner is more famously known for his Red Bull energy drinks. Thais love red wine though the wine specialists say the weather is more suited for the white wine. What I found most interesting is that they export about 70% of their wines to Europe. About 20% to Japan & Hong Kong and the rest about 10% is consumed locally. Royal Shiraz made especially for the king is not sold to anyone else. Like everything else in Thailand this winery also believes that they are prospering with the blessings of the king.
I learnt a new term ‘New Latitude Wines’ – Now these are wines that are made from grapes grown outside the traditional winery latitudes. Traditional wines with a perfect recipe are made from a crop grown within the latitudes 30-50. This obviously does not include tropical countries like India and Thailand. The wines that are now produced in these regions are more experimental as they exploit new technologies and innovations. In fact winemaker, Kathrin Puff says that new latitude wines teach the right to be wrong. And are still juvenile while the old wines have stories set in tradition and location. You can also read Frank Norel who is credited with coining the term New Latitude Wines.
Wineries – Tourist circuit
Following the west, wineries are becoming an integral part of tourist circuits and that means providing some entertainment quotient to the visitors. So here at Hua Hin you can go for an elephant ride around the vineyard – this is the home of Asian elephants after all. You can go on a guided tour with the vineyard staff who will explain you the various crops and the wines they are converted into. It is a nice drive through the vineyard though if one can afford time a walk would be more beautiful. There is an old house standing in the middle but we were told that visitors are allowed only during the daytime and they must leave before evening. In between the lines I sensed a safety issue on the road leading to the vineyard and this place is good one hour plus drive from Hua Hin.
It was an unexpected experience in the exotic east.
Recommend you to read following Thailand Tourism attractions.