“Wow!” exclaimed the sommelier as he popped the cork on the bottle of sparkling wine we were about to share with our table mates. “This is good,” he said, “really good! The wine is clear, with a lemony intensity and it has legs,” he continued. The sparkling wine, GranMonte Crémant from Thailand, was a prized souvenir from our weekend getaway to the Asoke Valley. We had decided to open as we sailed along the coast of Vietnam on the final evening of our Icons of Asia journey with Windstar Cruises earlier this year. Sommelier Justin McAuliffe had selected wines perfectly paired with our previous meals on the Star Legend and shared some excellent sparkling wines as part of his shipboard wine workshop series. Now, it was our turn to repay the favor. We wanted to introduce someone who knows his wines to Thai winemaker Nikki Lohitnavy, a new star on Asia’s wine horizon.
An award-winning winemaker
Nikki Lohitnavy is Thailand’s first fully-qualified oenologist, with a degree in both wine making and viticulture from the University of Adelaide. She has worked in various wine regions around the world—Australia, Brazil, France, Mexico, Portugal, and South Africa. Since 2008, Nikki has been winemaker and manager of vineyard operations at GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery.
At GranMonte, her wines that regularly bring home awards from international competitions. Her goal is to raise Thai wine making and especially wine making at GranMonte, up to the highest international standards.
“It is impossible to produce good wine from bad grapes.”
The GranMonte winery
GranMonte had its first grape harvest in 1999, began producing wine in 2001, and has produced wine under the GranMonte label since Nikki’s arrival in 2008. Wine culture is in its infancy in Thailand, but the winery is doing its part to help establish a domestic market, playing a leading role in wine production, marketing, and distribution. GranMonte currently produces 120,000 bottles per year, and work is underway to double the winery’s capacity, both to meet demand and to carry out new wine-making projects. About 20% of the winery’s production is for export, to Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Switzerland, and France.
The GranMonte winery is a modest affair, its demure exterior giving no indication of the continual striving for excellence that goes on inside. We visited the winery—with its winemaker’s laboratory and cellar with barrels of French oak turning grape juice into top-quality Reserva and other award-winning wines in the temperature-controlled cellar. Nikki pulled wines from the barrels for us to taste; we would enjoy finished the product later, at dinner with the winemaker and her father, Visooth Lohitnavy, founder of the GranMonte estate.
The grapes and technology of a “New Latitude” vineyard
Chenin Blanc and Viognier are the primary grapes grown at GranMonte, but Nikki is especially enthusiastic about Verdelho. Although she experiments with many grape varieties, she believes the variety, with its small berries and bunches, and thick skin, is well suited to the Asoke Valley climate. Another import is Tinto Cão, which the winemaker brought back to Thailand from Portugal’s Douro Valley, hoping to make the most of this variety’s disease resistance.
As we walked through the vineyards, Nikki spoke about the challenges to cultivating grapevines in the tropics. Significantly, there is no dormancy of the vines. This means they must be pruned twice a year, with harvest in the dry season (In 2018, peak harvest came at the end of February.). The grapes ripen in winter, and Nikki uses data mapped over the past 15 years to determine the best time for the first pruning. The second pruning is timed to ensure that flowering doesn’t happen during a monsoon.
We learned that these tropical vineyards are irrigated, an unexpected bit of wine making lore. Moisture sensors prevent over watering, and help control disease, by letting the winemaker know how much water the vines require and when. Nikki also uses technology to determine when to spray against disease and puts hay at the base of the roots to stop weed growth. Vines are trellised to slow their growth, expose grape clusters, and reduce humidity.
Tasty bites, breakfast, and a feast
Asia is often considered a wasteland for wine lovers: great food, certainly, but these are not wine cultures, at least not in the great-wines-of-the-world sense of the word. At GranMonte, however, we discovered wines crafted with passion, talent, and creativity.
At VinCotto, a glass of GranMonte Verdelho was the perfect accompaniment to a Thai luncheon set. The Syrah Oriente Reserva matched well with two distinctively different dishes we enjoyed at dinner: an elegant Mieng Pla, featuring morsels of fish wrapped in a betel leaf with ginger, shallot, lime, and peanuts; and Penang Moo, a pork red curry.
After dinner, Visooth Lohitnavy presented us with a special treat: a glass of lush and fruity Bussaba. The amber nectar tasted of nectarines and pears and was an ideal finish to our meal. The winery produces just 300 bottles of Bussaba per year, and the edition we sampled—from 2017—is no longer available. It was a memory to treasure.
If you go
The GranMonte estate impresses with its wide vistas, mountainous backdrop and intense peace.
- Visit GranMonte for a “New Latitude” wine experience in a welcoming family setting.
- Hop on one of the free bicycles and explore the paths through the main vineyards.
- The best GranMonte wines are produced in limited quantities (the unwooded wines of the Spring label are produced primarily for hotels and restaurants). Do try them!
- GranMonte Guesthouse is open year-round, but from a weather standpoint, the best escape-from-tropical heat times to visit the Asoke Valley and GranMonte is between October and March
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We were guests of GranMonte Winery and enjoyed every luscious moment of our visit. Thank you to the Lohitnavy family for a memorable stay in the Asoke Valley!