BANGKOK–Despite its winemaking industry being less than two decades old, Thailand produces not only top-quality blends but also oenological talent enough to nourish future generations of connoisseurs and viticulturists.
GranMonte Vineyards and Winery’s harvest festival two weekends ago showed day-trippers and budding wine-lovers that it can produce award-winning vintages using homegrown expertise, even amid the mostly foreign winemakers in our industry here.
GranMonte boasts Thailand’s first female oenologist-winemaker — 23-year-old Visootha “Nikki” Lohitnavy. Nikki, who graduated in 2008 with a degree in oenology from the University of Adelaide in Australia, is the daughter of GranMonte chief executive Visooth Lohitnavy and one of just a few certified Thai winemakers.
GranMonte — the name means “big mountain” — produces about 80,000 bottles of wine and 100,000 bottles of grape juice per year, for local consumption and export.
During a tour of the vineyard, Nikki introduced visitors to the new and interesting grape varietals grown there, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier and Verdelho. The other usual varietals that produce acclaimed top-quality wines are Syrah and Chenin Blanc.
Nikki also led us through her winery and explained how the red and white wines are produced. The excursion ended with a tasting of new vintages — GranMonte 2010 Viognier, Heritage 2010 Syrah Viognier, Rose 2010 Syrah and a sparkling wine still in its milky ageing condition.
She said her winery is rolling out its first sparkling wine soon, as well as GranMonte 2009 The Orient Reserve Magnum red wine, which was sampled for the first time at the festival by the visiting journalists and wine gurus from Bangkok.
And Visooth presented his bottle of Chateau Angelus Magnum 2007, which was served during dinner and brunch at the estate’s VinCotto Restaurant run by his wife Sakuna.
Following the tour, Nikki explained that GranMonte produces wines in the “New Latitude” style. The term is thought to have originated in Thailand. And the soon-to-be-released Orient Reserve Magnum is a reflection of her unique techniques.
“We age the wine in our new French and American oaks for 18 months. It’s a very powerful and elegant wine, I would say, definitely a wine to keep. You can age it over 10 years, but after seven years it’s nice to drink.
“The slower ageing process keeps the wine fresher longer. Definitely this is a wine for a special occasion. Some dessert wines are still to come too.”
Nikki added that 600 to 1,000 bottles of the Magnum will be available in three months, while the first sparkling wine will hit the market next year.
There are stainless-steel tanks and oak casks at Nikki’s winery. New and traditional methods are in use. Traditional wines are usually made with an oxidative process — the wine is exposed to air throughout the process to help in fermentation and complexity and to soften the component tannins.
But Nikki also relies on “reductive wine making,” which minimizes the oxidation during the process and helps preserve the fruity aromas and flavors in the grapes.
“The least contact with oxygen,” she called it. “Our technology is quite advanced, but I would say we have a little of the Old World touch, too. We call that the New Latitude style.”
With the technicalities out of the way, the festival was dedicated to good fun, about 100 guests even participating in a quick harvest competition in teams of two.
Armed with a pair of scissors, each team had to pluck the grapes. Those who picked the most won. The winning Baan Kanitha team claimed top honors with 83.9 kilograms of grapes and then got their pick of prizes including The Orient Reserve Magnum and Chateau Angelus Magnum.
The guests were delighted with the prizes almost as much as with the quality of the Thai wines served.
“This year’s festival was great fun,” Nikki declared. “I’m glad to tell you that Thai wines are earning a good reputation as they win international awards. Some are also exported overseas, too.”