Bangkok’s urban sprawl swirled around us as we headed north from the Thai capital. Shops, factories and housing blocks lined the multi-lane highway, which teemed with buses and trucks. The traffic thinned just before our van turned off, onto a national highway that curved up into the low hills of the Asoke Valley. A bit beyond the entrance to Khao Yai National Park, we pulled into the grounds of the GranMonte Winery and Vineyard complex. Grape vines neatly draped over trellises arched in tidy rows across an undulating plain, backed by craggy limestone outcroppings.
A serene and luxurious weekend awaited us, just a two-hour drive from the traffic-clogged city.
GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery is proud of its sustainable viticulture practices, placing great importance on preserving the environment while producing high-quality wine grapes. Visooth and Sakuna Lohitnavy established the vineyards almost three decades ago, growing wine grapes and selling them to winemakers.
Their daughter, Nikki Lohitnavy, graduated from the University of Adelaide in 2008 with a Bachelors of Oenology with Honors in Viticulture. She returned to the family vineyard, now renamed GranMonte, as winemaker and manager of vineyard operations. Nikki is Thailand’s first fully-qualified oenologist, and at GranMonte Winery, she produces wines that regularly bring home awards from international competition.
Our accommodations at the GranMonte guesthouse were simply furnished and comfortable, a corner room overlooking vineyards in two directions. Pillow-covered sofas on the veranda outside our door provided a setting for savoring stunning sunsets and sunrises. The refreshing air was a delight, a little cooler and a lot less humid than Bangkok. In our weekend home, we luxuriated in quiet surroundings, punctuated only by birdcalls and frogs from a nearby lake. It was a setting that more resembled southern Europe than Southeast Asia.
During our stay, we took all our meals at the wine estate’s VinCotto restaurant. Diners can opt for meals on a deck overlooking a small lake, or in the air-conditioned dining room, and we found both settings delightful.
The restaurant is highly regarded for its home-style Western preparations as well as its Thai dishes, adapted by Sakuna Lohitnavy from family recipes. We opted for Thai meals, as a delightful way to discover wine-pairing possibilities for Asian food. Not surprisingly, the elegantly presented dishes at VinCotto pair well with GranMonte wines.
A glass of flinty GranMonte’s Gradient Verdelho was a fine match for a Thai luncheon set, and GranMonte Crémant was an especially memorable discovery: citrusy, yeasty, and creamy. Before we departed for Bangkok, we bought a bottle of this superb sparkling wine and delighted in sharing it with our tablemates during our Icons of Southeast Asia cruise with Windstar a few weeks later.
The highlight of our wine-tasting experience was an exquisite Bussaba, a naturally sweet late-harvest dessert wine.
Visooth Lohitnavy fairly twinkled as he offered us glasses of the amber nectar, with a lush and fruity aroma. In the glass, the Bussaba tasted of nectarines and pears, and most importantly, it was the perfect finish to our meal.
The winery first produced Bussaba in 2011, and it quickly developed a cult following. The 2017 vintage that we tasted was a special treat, from the founder’s cellar, the production of 600 bottles having sold out within weeks of issue (The next edition will be available at the end of 2018).
Wine-tasting and a tour
Much of the wine produced here is destined for Thai hotels and restaurants, and limited-edition wines from GranMonte Winery are primarily for export to a handful of countries. However, visitors to GranMonte—and diners at a select few restaurants in Bangkok—have an opportunity to discover the sophistication of GranMonte’s top wines.
GranMonte Vineyard welcomes visitors to regularly scheduled vineyard tours, with wine tastings. In addition, a tour package with a set lunch or dinner at VinCotto is available. Depending on the time of year, the tour includes a look at winemaking operations, as well.
We visited at high season and toured the winery and vineyards with winemaker Nikki Lohitnavy. It was a privileged look into the special considerations for growing wine grapes and producing the “New Latitude” wines that are increasingly well regarded—and increasingly popular—with wine lovers in Thailand and abroad.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- The Asoke Valley climate is a refreshing change of scene after time in tropical Bangkok.
- This is a boutique family wine experience featuring high-quality wines and a welcoming ambiance.
- Guests at GranMonte guesthouse have free rein—and free bicycles—to explore the (flat) paths through the main vineyards.
- The winery is a great base for exploration of the valley: Stay, eat and shop!
- GranMonte wines produces its top wines in limited editions and they are primarily for export. They are not widely available in Thailand.
- Be forewarned that wines in Thailand taxes are heavily taxed, and the price to enjoy quality wines can be considered expensive by local standards.
IF YOU GO
Be sure to get the whole scoop on GranMonte’s “New Latitude wines” on Anita’s Feast!
The authors visited GranMonte as guests of the Lohitnavy family.
All photo credits: Tom Fakler and Anita Breland
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