No one thought that Californian wines could beat out the French in a blind tasting a few decades ago – but the Judgement of Paris proved otherwise. Then, no one thought any quality wines could come out of China – and now we have acclaimed wineries like Ao Yun and Silver Heights. The most recent surprises are coming from New Latitude regions. These are countries in the world lying above 50° and below 30° – or areas once thought to be too dark, too cold, too warm, or too dry to grow wine grapes. However, wine finds a way. One such winery is Granmonte Estate, located in Asoke Valley in Thailand – right at the foot of Khao Yai. While still located in a tropical region, the elevation of the winery, in addition to the area’s cool microclimate, makes grape-growing a possibility – and the winery is the only one in the country (and world) producing wine from 100 per cent Thai-grown grapes. The family-run estate has gone on to win multiple awards and accolades – their Orient syrah is fantastic – from events like the Syrah du Monde, and the Decanter Asia Wine Awards – much of which has been thanks to winemaker and director Nikki Lohitnavy, the country’s only female winemaker. The Peak speaks to about the ins and outs of making wine in a tropical region.
How was this year’s harvest?
Fantastic! We had an early and long winter (November-February) which was very dry and cooler than normal. So we have a nice and long ripening. The whites have fantastic and delicate aromas, acidity and pH, as well as the reds plus lots of colour and tannins.
What’s the biggest challenge with viticulture in a tropical climate?
I wouldn’t say tropical viticulture has limitations. It is a unique climate with lots of benefits as well. The biggest challenge would be understanding your climate before you can adapt viticultural techniques to fit. You do need to know your climate, rain pattern, temperature ranges really well to plan the work in the vineyard accordingly. We do have to prune twice a year to have one harvest. So that’s double the work!
But what’s great about tropical viticulture is that the vines do not go into dormancy. We are able to plan harvest time according to when we prune. For example. if we prune the whites early, we can harvest the whites earlier when the weather is really cool. In tropical climates, we do not have weather extremes such as floods, frost, or hail.
You’ve made wine all over the world – where has been the most useful with the work you’re doing at Granmonte?
I worked in Brazil at three wineries. I was able to share as well as learn a lot. I worked at two wineries in the São Francisco Valley in the North East which has a tropical, semi-arid climate. It was a great place to see management of tropical vineyards on a huge scale. At one time, there can be all four different stages of growth; budburst, shoot positioning, harvest, and pruning! I worked at one winery in São Paolo state, which has a sub-tropical climate. It is like a parallel universe to our vineyard that I didn’t know existed! Even the varieties, the training system used, the neat rows of vines and the esthetic of the whole place is so similar to GranMonte! So the oenologist and I were able to discuss and share many useful ideas.
You’ve been researching different grape varietals – what has worked well? Do you think Thailand will have a “signature” grape like other winegrowing regions like marselan in China and pinotage in South Africa?
We don’t have a signature variety as such. Chenin Blanc and Syrah have always grown well in tropical climates, including in Thailand. We have many research blocks with over 40 different varieties and clones. We have been planting and launching new varieties into the market since 2010 which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Verdelho, Durif etc. But in my personal opinion, I would like to say that our signature variety in Thailand could be Chenin Blanc as it is such a versatile variety that has been made into, sparkling, white and sweet wines of really high quality here in Thailand.
Do you think new latitude wines will ever reach the level of the world’s great winegrowing regions?
Wine quality wise, we are already winning awards from many international wine competitions. Well known new latitude regions are for example Khao Yai (which is a Geographical Indication), São Francisco valley (Brazil), Nashik (India). However, we are young (roughly 30-40 years-old) not tied to traditions and limitations like all old world regions and some new world ones. So it might take a while for consumers to know about us!
How has climate change affected you guys?
We see a slight shift in rain pattern (which is OK as we have advanced climate monitoring systems) and slight rise in average temperature. So we handle that by, for example, leaving more leaves around the fruit zone pruning early to avoid high temperature in February and harvesting at night than during the day.
What is a project that you are excited about right now?
We have been planting new varieties at our new vineyard sites around Khao Yai. You will be seeing some Cabernet Franc, some more white Rhone varieties and reds soon! We are also expanding our winery which will be a state-of-the-art winery. We aim to finish the construction soon.