The story of PB Valley Khao Yai Winery
by Colin Kaye
Traditionally, wine grapes are grown between the latitudes of 30 and 50 degrees in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In contrast, most of Thailand’s vineyards lie between 14 degrees N and 18 degrees N, a region once considered unsuitable for wine grapes. In fact, at one time, you wouldn’t often hear the words “wine” and “Thailand” in the same sentence. These days, it’s a different story.
The birthplace of the Khao Yai wine region in Thailand is only a couple of hours drive up the expressway from Bangkok, to the relatively peaceful countryside at the edge of Khao Yai National Park. Khao Yai means “big mountain” in Thai, and the National Park covers an area of almost 200 square miles with endless hills, evergreen forests, and grasslands.
Prayut Piangbunta is Thailand’s first oenologist/winemaker and the Director & Chief Winemaker at Khao Yai Winery, the registered company name for PB Valley Khao Yai Winery (102 Moo 5, Phaya Yen, Pak Chong Nakorn Ratchasima 30320, 036 226 415–6, www.khaoyaiwinery.com). He produces a range of “new latitude” Thai wines using international varietals like Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Shiraz, and Tempranillo, which of course is normally associated with Spain. The Chenin Blanc, with its natural acidity, adapts well to the local climate, and the Shiraz produces surprisingly elegant and complex wines not unlike their distant Rhône cousins.
The winery lies on an 800-acre plantation and, with two fully accredited Thai winemakers and state-of-the-art technology, it has the capacity to produce
a million bottles a year. PB Khao Yai Winery currently produces eight wines—the letters “PB” are the initials of Dr. Piya Bhirombhakdi, the founder of the company. The Sawasdee Chenin Blanc and the Sawasdee Shiraz are entry-level wines, and the Chenin is a real charmer, with a lovely aroma of banana, melon, green apple, with hint of orange blossom and almond. The Sawasdee Shiraz has rich aromas of dried apricot, cherry, plum and raspberry, with a dash of cloves and black pepper.
For something more complex, they also produce the Khao Yai Reserve range. The PB Khao Yai Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012, for example, is a beautifully balanced and superbly mellow wine with aromas of ripe banana, pineapple, hazelnut, and almond.
The top range includes some wines of extraordinary complexity. The Pirom Supremacy 2012 Shiraz Cabernet won a commendation the prestigious 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards, and four of the Reserve range won recognition at the 2013 AWC Vienna International Wine Challenge. No doubt these achievements have gladdened the heart of Dr. Piya Bhirombhakdi, who planted the first vineyard in Kao Yai 25 years ago, as they have helped set Thailand as a serious player internationally when it comes to new latitude wines.