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Take a Bottle Home Thai Wine !!

Rice wine? Yes! Herbal wine? Yes! Fruit wine? Yes! Thailand makes all of these but what about "proper" wine produced from the classical grape? The answer, again, is "YES". Most visitors do not, perhaps, think of Thailand as being a wine producing country but, in fact, the viticulture industry is growing steadily. Thai wine, from homegrown grapes, is now being featured on wine-lists at quality Thai hotels and restaurants and is being increasingly exported to European and U.S. markets.

But, it all began some thirty years ago when His Majesty King Bhumibol had the idea that grape growing, for both wine production and dining-table use, might be feasible as one of his Royal Projects. So the King gave encouragement to specialists at Chiangmai's Royal Project Foundation and at Kasetsart University in Bangkok. From those tiny beginnings, and after many trial and error experiments with classical grapevine stock, the industry has grown to the level where Thai wines are being successfully presented at International Trade Fairs.

Expertise was imported largely from France (French wine-makers and cellar-masters plus huge 225-litre, French made oak casks). Planted quality grape varieties include Chenin Blanc, Malaga Blanc, Shiraz, Sauvignon-Colombard, Sauvignon-Blanc and Tempranillo. A visit to any of the Thai vineyards will reveal row-upon-row of well-tended vines, state-of-the-art viticulture technology and massive, stainless steel processing tanks. It's all a far cry from H.M. King Bhumibol's original thought and, when blind tastings have been conducted, Thai wines have not only impressed experts but have left them to exclaim "What? Thailand!" when they learn the wine's country of origin.

Vineyard locations range from cool heights (up to 800 meters) near a National Park in Nakorn Ratchasima Province through to Loei Province in E-sarn and the River Kwai region in Kanchanaburi Province of central region. Thailand, possibly uniquely, has "floating" vineyards where the rows of vines are separated by narrow canals and are cultivated, pruned and harvested from boats.

Here in Chiangmai Province, several popular folk wines are produced by farming organizations forming Chiangmai Wine Cooperative Co.Ltd., located across from Rajabhat Institute. Besides cider which has only 7% alcohol content, dry wines are produced from Lynchee, Jambolan or Java Plum, Strawberry, Malay Gooseberry, and Mango. Lynchee White Wine was the second place winner of National Contest of 2003.

However, the art of fruit and herbal wine has not been forgotten; it is still very much alive at the Chiang Rai Winery Co.,Ltd., the only one of its kind in Northern Thailand. Founded by a vastly experienced group of scholar professors and physicians, the winery has successfully achieved its aim of producing high quality wines which promote good health. The winery is situated in the Lao River Valley, in Sri-toy Sub-district, Mae-Suay District, Chiangrai province. The fertile alluvial land and the favorable climate provide the ideal conditions for the diversity of fruit and herbs to thrive in the orchards and herbal gardens. Some of the fruits used for making particular wines are unique to this region, making the finished product even more special. The abundance of fresh produce combined with the depth of herbal medicinal knowledge ensures that the company's reputation for developing healthy wines is well deserved.

In March 2000, the winery was granted a permit to produce wines in sizable quantities. The wines are appropriately marketed under the trade name "La Santé" (the French word for good health) and are labeled with the company's horse logo, leading some customers to adopt the term "Horse Brand Wine". The winery has its own internationally approved laboratory for research and development of new wines. The high standards of quality control guarantee the quality of every single bottle. The innovation in wine-making has earned the company the right to produce wines under two patents. The consistent quality and originality of the wines has been recognized with many awards. The company currently produces three fruit wines and three herbal wines.

Santol or Wood Apple Wine (White) has won the first prize in the National Contest, jointly held by the Ministry of Interior, House of Representatives Economic Commission and Assumption University in 1999. The chief ingredient, Santol, contains a balance between tannic acid and antioxidant substances. It is recommended that the wine complements seafood or Tohm Yaam Goong. The herbal wines : Doh Wine (White) won the first prize in "Herbal Wine" category in the National Contest 2000. Black Gra-Shy or Black Ginseng Wine (Red), is holder of the coveted first prize at the competition of 17 Provinces Health Promotion Festival 2002.

This stimulating wine is best enjoyed with roasted food or a meal cooked with spices. Doh-Lemon or Thai Tokay (White) won the best "Thai Wine Award" at The Wine and Spirit Contest at The International Food & Hospitality Show 2002. Meanwhile, the other two fruit wines es : Noni Wine (Red) is made from Thai Noni (Morinda) which contains an antioxidant that could reduce aging and prevent cardiac as well as blood diseases scopoletin, two times more than that fruit in Hawaii. Red Fruit Wine is blended with mixed fruits and herbs Wild grape, Santol, Roselle, etc. Also Black Gra Shy (Black Ginseng) red wine is another product that becomes more popular among consumers.

All of these wines are excellent for relaxation and healthy nourishment. Selection of each wine produced by Chiang Rai Winery would go well with one of these dishes : spicy salad, roasted meat, curry with coconut milk, and soon.

Visitors to Thailand may already have enjoyed a Thai wine when dining at their local Thai restaurant back home but if not, now is your chance. Costing a fraction of what you will pay in other countries, it is good to enjoy during your time in Chiangmai and a good buy to Take a bottle Home. Proudly, Thai wines (white, red, cider made from various fruits and herbs) have been selected to be served during APEC 2003 dinner. Among producers are Khao Yai Winery Co.Ltd., Siam Winery Co.Ltd., United Products Co.Ltd., Chiangrai Winery Co.Ltd., Chiangmai Cooperative Wines Co.Ltd., BJ Garden Winery Co.Ltd. Thai wines really do complement the exciting flavors of Thai cuisine. By the way, if the vintage is labelled with the year "2542" (for example) don't be concerned it is because of the Buddhist calendar and, anyway, Thai wines are looking forward to a good future. Enjoy!

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