Science, technology, young entrepreneurs, and changing climates are changing traditional viticultural boundaries.
Only a few decades a go it was widely accepted that wines grew only between latitudes 30 to 50 north and 20 – 40 south.
Today, there are thriving vineyards on the same latitude well past 50 north, and 14 north in the Khao Yai in Thailand.
Brazil has vineyards on latitude eight south producing sparkling wines that taste as good as any from Spain, Chile and California.
Who would have thought of drinking modern wines from India, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Japan, England and even Sweden only 10 years ago.
China and Japan have been producing wine flavoured with fruit extracts for many years, but most, if not all, were oxidized, and quite undrinkable.
Scientists have now developed hybrid grapes that can thrive in hot or cold climates. In hot climates vignerons prefer to plant on high altitude if suitable land is available and affordable.
Cellar technology now allows wine to be produced from highly acid or very low acid grapes.
As Hugh Johnson, a noted British writer, noted recently: “ There is no more unacceptable wine from anywhere and from any vintage.” In poor vintages winemakers sort out fruit vigorously, use reverse osmosis, chaptalize, or de-acidify, add tannins, remove excess alcohol, remove volatile acidity, or add water to dilute, creating drinkable wines. Whether or not these interventions render the wine un-natural is subject for debate.
In tropical countries grape growers select high elevation land for vineyards and plant specially acclimatized clones. They also experiment to establish the most suitable varieties. These practices are possible due to the availability of inexpensive labour, and land.
Thailand has now nine wineries.
P.B. Valley Winery in Khao Yai is a two-hour drive northeast of Bangkok; the young winemaker was trained in Germany and is willing to experiment. According to him, Shiraz, Tempranillo, and Chenin blanc grow well, and he is now experimenting with Dornfelder, a German red hybrid.
Irrigation is a must, but applied judiciously it yields very good results.
Long sunny days with 12 hours of sunshine allow him to harvest fully ripe grapes in February.
Chateau de Loei located northeast of Bangkok belongs to the family that owns the world famous Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
Monsoon Valley’s Siam Winery (1996), one-hour drive from Bangkok, produces an acceptable red wines from pok duma grapes.
Thailand produces one million bottles of wine and exports a portion of it to Japan, the United Kingdom and other countries with a considerable number of Thai restaurants.
Young, educated and westernized Thai have started to enjoy wine and this encourages, more and more entrepreneurs to plant vineyards and make wine that could please both locals and millions of tourists.