110 hectares of sand and slate terrain in the mountains of Hua Hin, international awards and a restaurant serving dishes made from ingredients grown at the local farm (they even have their own pigs). Sounds good right? Well, in all honesty it’s not as great as it sounds. The vineyards are beautiful with a picturesque restaurant building on the top of the hill and the wine decent taking into account that this is Thailand. But the rest of the experience feels like a bit of a tourist trap. I was surprised. With the above-mentioned features, how can you fail? Read on to find out…
Monsoon Valley Vieyards is up in the mountains, about an hours drive from our hotel on Cha-am beach, and 20 more from the center of Hua Hin. We hired a taxi to take us, as it was most convenient. But there is also the possibility to take a shuttle from the center. The private taxi for us cost 1500 TBH round trip, the shuttle would have been 300 TBH per person one way. Not much difference. We tried contacting the vineyard in advance to check for for the transport options – no answer. That should already have been a warning sign.
The vineyard consists of around 110 hectares of land. All irrigation is done with rain water, which is collected during rainy season and used during dry season. From what I could tell, there are five main grape varieties grown at the vineyard: Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Muscat, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also grow bananas, mangos, olives, vegetables and herbs at the farm, which are used for cooking at the restaurant. We tried to find the other animals too: pigs and chickens to show to our daughter, but we couldn’t find them. There was an elephant though, providing rides to tourists. I usually object to those kinds of things, but the huge animal looked well kept and well fed (I have seen some bad examples).
At the rustic hill-top restaurant, they served international cuisine: pastas that sounded yummy on paper, and of course the vineyards own wines. We would have liked to do a tasting, but the amount of wine included was 750ml. Seriouslyhat’s a whole bottle. We had no intention of drinking that much. So we decided to order wines by the glass instead. However, they were out of the interesting stuff, their Sparkling Siam blanc de blancs, made with the champagne method. That was what we mainly came for. I so would have wanted to taste a Thai sparkling wine, but the other sparkling was a half-sweet one, which I would not have drank even if it was free. We ended up ordering a glass to share of the Cuvee de Siam Blanc 2012 white wine; a Bourgogne-style blend of Chenin blanc and Colombard. The other wines on the list were just not that interesting. The staff offered some other sparklings that were available by the bottle, but would not be flexible to sell them by the glass. This is where we got a bit irritated. How can you run out of your own wine anyway, and why cant you then compensate by offering something else? Its not like that would have cost them that much.
The restaurant building itself is very nice. The huge terrace has panoramic views of the vineyard and surrounding mountains. This view was probably the best thing about the whole excursion. The menu featured international dishes, mainly pastas. We ordered a spicy bacon pasta with chili, and a classic Carbonara. There was even a kids menu with some fish and chips for our short companion. The food came fast…suspiciously fast. The spicy bacon tasted quite good, but the plate was small, and the Crabonara felt like someone had just cooked pasta and thrown a tetra of cream on it. No spices or flavors what-so-ever. This was the last straw really. At this point, the trip did not feel worth the taxi cost.
After we left the vineyard, we pondered with M in the car how it could be such a failure with such great preconditions. The answer could be that this is not a wine country and Monsoon Valley caters mainly to tourists: people who come there for the uniqueness of a Thai winery rather than a culinary experience. There are few repeat visitors. This is probably why the tasting portions were also big, most people were on holiday and wanted quantity over quality. However, not to be too critical, the winery had managed to make some pretty decent wine. The Cuvee de Siam blanc was not too bad. It had quite intense flavors of white fruit, peach and apricot, but none of those jammy or vinegar flavors that are common for wines from Asian countries. You could tell that whomever had made the wine knew what they were doing. When growing in such warm conditions, I can imagine that the grapes come out sweet and ripe. So in the aftermath, we concluded that the visit was worth the effort and time. At least I can say I have tasted a Thai wine and have some nice photos to remember it by.