Thailand's Secret Wine Region Is a Lush, Grape-Scented Paradise
With elephants and wine safaris, Monsoon Valley is nothing like Napa.
People often travel to Thailand for endless heaps of noodles, opulent royal palaces and temples, and the serenity of the surrounding tropical beaches. That was certainly the majority of my intended itinerary, until I visited the country’s Monsoon Valley Vineyards and realized the country held an additional, unexpected appeal for me. Namely, Thai wine.
Outside of the bustling coastal city of Hua Hin, serene rolling hills give way to rows and rows of grapevines. The aroma of soy sauce and chillies omnipresent in Hua Hin’s streets is replaced by the dual scents of fresh air and ripe grapes. This lush, fragrant place is Monsoon Valley, the vineyard founded in 2001 by lead winemaker Suppached Sasomsin, now a leading producer of Thai wines.
A vineyard is born in Thailand
After studying wine in France, Italy, and Spain, Sasomsin was inspired to develop viticulture in his native country, Thailand, where he recognized the bountiful potential for growing grapes. His first vineyard at Tab Kwang, in the country’s traditional grape-growing region of Khao Yai, was a success. He sought out other areas of Thailand with less of a reputation for wine and eventually found the Baan Khork Chang valley, just over 20 miles from the beaches of Hua Hin.
According to Sasomsin, the vineyard’s sublime green valley was once the site of an elephant corral, and never previously known for growing grapes. He says he wanted to change the way this region was viewed by international and domestic visitors, as well as garner interest from locals. “The local community has been very supportive,” he explains. “As a culture, we very much value our culinary heritage and traditions, as well as the country’s natural beauty.”
The coastal location may not have been traditional wine country, but it has worked magic on the grapes. "Being close to the sea gives our Hua Hin vineyards an advantage as nights tend to be cooler, whilst the soil is enriched with shells and fossils," Sasomsin says. "The loamy-sand and slate terrain of Monsoon Valley Vineyards with consistent sea breezes allows international grape varietals to thrive and imparts an aromatic, mineral-rich flavor to the wine."
Wine, views, and elephants
Monsoon Valley Winery uses a range of sustainably grown grape varietals in its wines (including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Shiraz), as well as traditional winemaking techniques, such as aging the wines in oak barrels to add complexity and depth of flavor. Visitors can enjoy glasses at either the winery’s tasting room or restaurant.
As a wine lover with an admittedly novice palette, my standout wine was the Shiraz, with its deep ruby color and aromas of blackberry and spice. I opted to sip my wine alongside a meal, and the restaurant was careful to ensure I paired the right foods with each wine, the flavor of the Shiraz melding perfectly with deep-fried tofu patties and plum sauce. Sweeping views of the valley are also a perfect pairing you’ll find at both the tasting room and restaurant. When I picture that pristine panorama of vines and hills, I can almost taste the lingering finish of Monsoon Valley’s Signature White and its scent of spiced, ripened stone fruit.
Those who want to make a day of their visit will find there’s a little more to Monsoon Valley than simple sipping. You can book guided tours of the vineyard, or mountain bike on its dedicated trails. The vineyard also has an onsite elephant sanctuary where you can visit elephants being cared for in their natural habitat. There’s even an option to book a full-day “wine safari” experience, which includes a vineyard tour, multi-course meal, and a private wildlife-viewing experience with local guides in the nearby Kuiburi National Park.
How to visit Monsoon Valley
The winery is located on the western edge of Hua Hin, just a few-hour drive from Bangkok. For a weekend getaway, it’s convenient to stay at Anantara Hua Hin, a seaside resort about 45 minutes from the winery. The luxury of staying here is that you can bring back a bottle from the vineyard and enjoy it while relaxing on lush tropical grounds with lotus-filled lagoons, or sip your preferred red or white wine poolside.
Sasomsin and his team note that Monsoon Valley’s production seasons last from October to January, followed by veraison (when the grapes begin to ripen) in February, and grape maturation in March. The best time to visit is in March, though the wines are tasty all year long.
If you’re still torn about whether to make room in your Thailand itinerary for a vineyard visit, consider Sasomsin’s take on the way his endeavor reflects the country’s culture. “It’s a natural fit that Thais would take to winemaking, the perfect blend of tradition, innovation, and commitment to the land,” he says. “Monsoon Valley marries all of these aspects of Thai culture together.”