Sunday, August 10, 2014

PB Valley: Defining the Future of Thailand’s Wine Industry

Revisiting the place that confirmed my spark of desire to study a master’s degree in wine business has been a delightful experience and has affirmed to me the niche that I want to evolve in my career as a wine professional.

Before I delve into further detailed information about this brand and the Thai wine industry, here is a quick review snapshot of PB Valley.  I’ll be rating the estate on six different areas on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 reflecting the highest level of satisfaction:
1. Lodging: 3.5/5
2. Wine tour: 3/5
3. Gift shop: 4/5
4. Food: 2.5/5
5. Ambience of the facilities & surrounding vineyards: 5/5
6. Wine: 4.5/5
Overall grade: 3.8/5

Please bear in mind that this review is based on my personal thoughts and feelings, and are thus subjected to my personal set of idiosyncrasies and preferences.

Below is a more detailed run-down of the review.

For THB3,000 net price per night, you can stay in the luxurious bungalow called “The Great Hornbill’s Nest” (this bird is the logo of the winery).
Nestled into the main garden and surrounding vineyard, peaceful and serene, particularly at night
A short half-minute walk away from the restaurant and reception area
Amenities included: razor kit, soap, shampoo, a sewing kit and hair dryer, but no dental hygiene kit
WC and shower room are separated
A small cable TV (Who cares about how large the screen is?  You’re not there to watch TV; you’re there to taste wine and enjoy nature!)
Air conditioning but alternatively, there are also fly-wire screens on windows and doors.  So if you want mountain breeze but not insects to fill your room, you can.
A large double bed – if you like your mattresses very soft, then this is definitely for you.
A large sofa next to a window for a third member of your party to sleep on.  It’s also ideal for lounging around and catching up on your reading (i.e. on viticulture).
No room service
No Wi-Fi connectivity (that’s only available in the restaurant area)
No bath towel (luckily I brought my own)
No porter/bell-hop service (so bring just a backpack like me)
No replenishments of water and other beverages in the mini bar by house keeping
Frequent power outages when heavy rain occurs

Wine Tour
Because I stayed at the estate in low season, the guide was able to give me a personal tour.  High season lasts from October to February, as that is the period of cooler weather in Thailand, and with plenty of public holidays, many big-city dwellers do day-trips up to Khao Yai, which is only a 1.5 to 2 hour-drive away from Bangkok.  However, despite being the only person on the tour, it still felt rushed, in particular the last part, which involved tasting the wine.  4 different wines downed in less than 2 minutes, without much information about the vinification processes and then you’re shuttled back to the entrance of the estate.

The tour caravan is a tractor pulling two open-air seating carriages

The neighbour's plot has gac, a contribution to the terroir?


These two old-timers are just for show

Tasting time, 4 wines in 2 minutes

Gift Shops
There are 2 gift shops at the estate; one right at the welcoming area and the other is opposite the winery building.  There are all sorts of items available, from wine (of course) to products derived from grapes (e.g. grape seed soap, red wine vinegar salad dressing, shiraz grape juice, etc.) to fan clothing such as PB Valley polo shirts.

Over 80 menus for guests to enjoy
A variety of cuisines: such as Thai, American and German
Breakfast menus are available all day-long
Late breakfast service, starting from 09:00
Dinner service is only until 20:00
Menu descriptions are written in broken English with glaring errors that cause confusion for non-Thais.  This problem is also present the descriptions of wine in their product catalogue.  It is a pressing issue that they must address and improve, in order to better cater to foreign tourists.
Light rock cover versions of pop songs and oldies – the terrible sort of music you hear in shopping malls all across Thailand – is the stuff you’ll hear when dining at the one-and-only estate restaurant.
Mediocre ingredients – Thailand is leagues away from having Michelin-starred restaurants in the wine country, but this sector certainly has a lot of potential.  After all, Thailand is a land famed for its cuisine and locals enjoy a “whenever” dining culture.

A typical Thai lunch menu: "American" fried rice

Appetiser course of the 3-course dinner: smoked salmon salad with Thai style lime-garlic-chili dressing

Main course: red wine beef stew with buttery rice

Dessert: cherry cheesecake with a small bunch of grapes

If you appreciate fine details - note that all placemats are right at the edge of the table.

Complementary American style breakfast

Ambience & Surrounding Vineyards
Service roads are easy to follow.  So if you ever want to stroll down rows of vines, it’s easy to find your way back to your lodging.
The winery building wasn’t built to accommodate wine tourists.  However, this means that as a visitor, you get to experience walking through the facility itself, see the machines up-close and take photos of vintage-marked barrels, rather than on a catwalk high up above.
Cute nature-themed details within the buildings, such as the sink tap handle in the restaurant’s bathroom, and grapes hanging from the canvas roof of the terrace.
Wheelchair accessible only in certain parts of certain buildings.
Not enough lighting on the roads and paths.
Bumpy roads, even in the paved ones – lots of puddles after rain, take care when driving.

Note the irrigation pipes along the wires of the trellises

Kind ladies of the gardening team


Chenin Blanc
Appearance: Clear and brilliant straw-blonde colour
Nose:  Clean citrus fruit and water lilies form the foundation of the wine’s nose and finishes with mellow hints of vanilla.
Palate:  The wine has a crisp and clean structure with no tannin, a low-medium level of alcohol and a long finish.
myVinotype Summary:  A finesse wine that many Hypersensitives should include as another option to their list of everyday-drinking wine.

Appearance:  Pale and clear pink, like a blushing sweet pea flower
Nose:  Clean and pronounced acidity, with notes of delicate small blooms.
Palate:  Flowery and dry with no tannin and a fairly pronounced alcohol level gives this wine warmth.
myVinotype Summary:  A pretty powerful rosé that Sensitives would love, particularly if they want to want to add another change-up to their (wine) repertoire.

Appearance:  Clear garnet with a pinkish rim
Nose:  Clean and oak-driven, with a bouquet of fresh berries
Palate:  It’s a spicy, fruity and dry wine with notes of prunes and has a slight hint of charcoal.
myVinotype Summary:  Tolerant vinotypes would enjoy the powerful, oakiness of this wine with a fruit-driven front palate, tannic structure of the mid-palate and its long finish.

Appearance:  Intense deep purple center with garnet rim and the wine is slightly opaque
Nose: It leads with aroma of cooked fruit compote and notes of leather, slight smokiness in the background
Palate:  A fruity wine with slight acidity, akin to a cherry crumble pie.  Smooth tannins form the backbone and
myVinotype Summary:  Sensitives would appreciate the subtleties and multiple dimensions in the bouquet of this wine while Tolerants would love its bold nose and palate.

Brief History
Around 4 years ago, I took a day-trip to PB Valley in the Khao Yai (alternatively spelled “Khaoyai”) region of Thailand.  It confirmed my interest in studying a master’s degree in wine business, and started the path that led me to be the wine professional that I am today.

This is a winery that is belongs to Boonrawd Brewery of Singha Beer fame, Thailand’s premier name in the beer market.

In 1989, Dr. Priya Bhirombhakdi had the vision that Thailand ought to start making more wine domestically, rather than relying solely on imports to satisfy local demands. He named his wine estate "PB Valley", after his initials.  However, the honour of being Thailand’s first winery belongs to Château de Loei.  PB Valley’s vines yielded the first fruits worthy of vinification in 1998, nine years after the first planting.

Facts about the brand
One harvest per year (Jan.-Feb.)
150,000 to 170,000 bottles per year, but has the capacity to produce 600,000
Vineyard geographical location: Latitude 14.3 N
Soil: loam and clay loam (water retention and mildew are common problems, especially during the monsoon season)
Elevation: 350-380m above sea level
Grape varieties: Shiraz/Syrah, Tempranillo, Chenin Blanc, Dornfelder, Colombard, Cabernet Sauvignon (with newer varieties being tested)

Living history: Mr. Prayut Piangbunta is the first Thai-born wine maker

From the conversation I’ve had with PB Valley’s winemaker, Mr. Prayut Piangbunta, the three major challenges that affect the brand are:
Laws and regulations governing sales, promotion and consumption of alcoholic drinks in Thailand are very strict.  The company recently won silver awards for its 2010 Shiraz and 2011 Shiraz-Dornfelder blend at the 2013 Vienna Wine Challenge.  The latter was also awarded a prize by the Decanter Magazine.  However, the company couldn’t make its successes known domestically through local media due to strict laws.
Could “edutainment estate tours” be the way to promote wine tourism to the Thai public?  The locals’ interest in this beverage stretches only so far, and the general majority doesn’t yet possess the vocabulary to describe what they perceive on their palate when tasting wine.
Overcoming the inertia of the consumers (perception of alcoholic drinks and increasing and sustaining demands of the market).  This problem is similar to trying to make NFL widespread in the UK or football/soccer popular in USA.  However, who knows, this could all change very soon.  As we saw from the 2014 World Cup, more Americans became increasingly passionate about global football and fell in love with their domestic league, the MLS.

Perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, Thais would be enamoured with locally made wine.


  1. Great pictures and interesting article, but some viniculture words would need some more explanations at least for me with little wine knowledge

    1. Thank you for the comment! I shall bear that in mind and tinker with my future posts so that it would be easy to follow for folks from all occupational backgrounds.