By Gene Gonzalez
This is probably the ninth year that I have attended their yearly harvest celebrations and because of the succession of awards they have been garnering in international wine expos, the Khao Yai winemakers inch closer ever single year to putting their wines and their region in the World Wine map. In fact in the past they have already coined the term for their vinos as New Latitude Wines defying the principle of producing wine outside the so called Wine belt or World Latitude of wines.
The Khao Yai Wine Region becomes even more meaningful as a destination when both owners of the better vineyards called Gran Monte in the person of Visooth Lohitnavy and Chateau des Brummes owner Viravat Cholvanich, both visionaries of Thai wine are there to oversee the festivities and guests as both wineries go into their very busy mode receiving load after load of harvested grapes that will go through the process of first, sorting, taking out, and destemming to get pure berries. Then pressing to get the must (juice) and for the red, leave the must with the skins for color, flavor, and character. The festival highlights the harvest where in the midst of dinner and after the main course, guests are assembled with live music, fireworks, and country maidens adorned with wreaths of flowers on their heads to parade the vineyards filled with fruit that will be harvested by guests in the cool of the night to prevent premature fermentation. After the bountiful harvest the guests went back to their tables for dessert, and the evening becomes longer as cheese is serve with the primary vintage of the vineyard.
Mornings and afternoons are reserved for lectures by Ajan Pairach, president of the Thai Sommeliers Association and one of the foremost Asian authorities on wine especially Burgundy and Bordeaux vintages. His Lecture at Gran Monte started us with a new wine made by Visooth’s daughter Nikki who studied a full university program in winemaking at Adelaide in Australia. The new wine A Gradient Verdelho (named after a mountain slope) completely took me by blissful surprise as the robust yellow fruit like mangoes and peach with hints of asparagus and floral characters greeted us with a refreshing quality that was a true example of Nikki’s fast honing of her artistry and science in her wines. Next was a Sakuna Rose, named by Visooth after his wife who overseers the delights that come out of the vineyards kitchen. This rose has never failed to impress my guests as I mention that this charming wine redolent of red berries and yellow fruit with its creamy finish is made in Thailand. For our third wine we had their second to the top vintage, which is A Heritage Syrah 2014 blended with a little Viognier to boost up the fruity quality. This wine displayed hints of spices with generous dried and stewed fruit. Red berry characters add to the light earthiness of the wine. The fourth is another award winning wine, which is called The Orient Syrah 2012 that is their top vintage. This deep wine showing its garnet color has softened with age displaying hints of chocolate, nutty characters with black and dried fruit.
The sumptous lunch at Gran Monte with him yielded a pairing of some refreshing, citrusy GranMonte Viognier 2017 with aromas and flavors of Peach and pineapple, which they have been producing for the past seven years or so with our starters. For their main course of braised shortribs was a Heritage Syrah 2014 with delicious notes of dark chocolate, red and dark plums and berries.
As a contrast, The Wang Nam Khiao Winery that produces Chateau des Brummes produces wine in the traditional French style with a French winemaker to boot. During two dinners, their top two wines, Le Prestige displays the spicy character and expression of youth in a traditional french style wine with pepper, red fruits, vanilla, and wood, while La Fleur2005, which is their top wine shows off the finesse of a well aged wine, soft with powerful black fruit, and a creamy finish. The owner, Viravat, an industrialist with a passion for wine poured me his newest release a La Fleur 2006, which is just a preview sampling for next year. This wine shows ready drinking now but promises to age well with its cola and root beer characters, side by side with the red and black forest berries. The tannins are soft and the structure shows vibrant fruit. This is something to look forward to next year as the night continues with more cheese and pourings of their top vintage. What is amazing with Chateau des Brummes in a vineyard and farewell dinner presented by resort manager Chef Viravadi was her ability to pair off native Thai cooking with the wines her father produces. Such wines from the minerally Chenin blanc to the range of syrah could handle the spicy and herbal flavors of the Northern Thai recipes.
Next year promises to be a bigger harvest and festival combining the two successive harvests of Granmonte and Chateau des Brummes. In the meantime, I did a surprise pouring of the Gradient Verdelho 2017 in our annual Corte Riva get together with the winemakers. The wine went fast… too fast that I didn’t get a glass of it…
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