Monday, August 18, 2014

"Cold Mountain": A Contemporary Literary Gem

For those of you who are solely interested in wine, please skip ahead and read only the last section titled "For vinophiles."

I fell in love with the story of Ada and Inman from watching the film that was showing on the big screen during a flight from Australia to Thailand, back in my good ol' days as a boarding school pupil in 2003.  Yes, that was the twilight of large screen in-flight entertainment and the dawn of a new era, where personal mini screens are available to all passengers - even in coach/economy class.

A quick briefing of the storyline, for those of you who have never watched "Cold Mountain" before:

  • Based on a novel by the same name, written by Charles Frazier who was born in North Carolina
  • Set during the American Civil War
  • A tale of love and survival told from the perspectives of...
    • W. P. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier who is weary of the war and abandons his post to walk from the field hospital in Virginia to his hometown, Cold Mountain in North Carolina.
    • Ada Monroe, a southern lady who waits at the home front for the return of her enlisted beloved, Inman.
Whenever asked what my favourite film is, I never hesitate to give "Cold Mountain" as the answer.  Re-watching it over the years, the movie never fails to impress again and again.  The pantheon cast; Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger; bring to life, through their superb acting skills, the brutality of war, from the up-close shots that vividly portray the ferocity of battlefield mêlées to the bleakness of empty towns ravaged and attrited by years of conflict.  Contrast that all with the splendour of lush landscapes where tall mountain ranges dominate the horizon, and you get a grand setting for a love story.  

Despite the 11 years that have passed since first watching the film, I have never read the book.  This is due to the unavailability of this book in my native country (Thailand) and my host country (Switzerland).  Therefore, to receive it recently as a present from my wife was a delightful surprise, indeed.

About the book...
ISBN 978 0 340 93632 0
First published in 1997, but the edition I'm reading was published in 2011.

Compared to the storyline of the film, the book is quite different.  First off, its first scene is set in the field hospital where the injured Inman spends his time to recover from the bullet wound in his neck that he received at the Siege of Petersburg in the last remaining months of the war.

Charles Frazier wrote this work with his literary artistry in full display.  The words the author used to describe the thoughts of characters, are so striking that you as the reader feel like you are there in that event and are experiencing the exact emotions that the characters are feeling.   Besides first-person narration, flashbacks, foreshadowing, the author's use of other literary devices such as pathetic fallacy and the occasional instances of alliteration help the audience gain insight into the characters' perceptions of their duresses and struggles.  Through Frazier's prowess at "painting pictures with words," I, as a reader, am transported into the story and feel like I am living it, even when I read the book in a busy and noisy Thai shopping mall.

A conversation between Inman and an old and blind peanut vendor at the field hospital shows what I mean about the author's aptitude at conveying to you what the characters feel.  After asking the blind man what he'd give to be able to see, Inman was conversely asked if there were any instances he wished he would never have seen.  The protagonist then recalled his participation at the Battle of Fredericksburg, how it was a lop-sided butchering of Union soldiers of which he wished he wasn't a part.

The Federals kept on coming long past the point where all the pleasure of whipping them vanished.  Inman just got to hating them for their clodpated determination to die.
The fighting was in the way of a dream, one where your foes are ranked against you countless and mighty.  And you so weak.  And yet they fall and keep falling until they are crushed.  Inman had fired until his right arm was weary from working the ramrod, his jaws sore from biting the ends off the paper cartridges.

and about the cold-blooded systematic coup de grâce of Union soldiers through the night after the battle...

Inman walked through the house and out the back door and saw a man killing a group of badly wounded Federals by striking them in the head with a hammer... the man moved briskly down the row, making a clear effort to let one strike apiece do.  Not angry, just moving from one to one like a man with a job of work to get done.

and the most macabre part is that the executioner...

whistled, almost under his breath, the tune of Cora Ellen.

So, did that evoke some emotions in you?  Disgust, perhaps?  Shock?

It really gets under your skin, doesn't it?  Not all of the book (or film) is about cruelty and the ugly nature of humans.  However, it is a love story set during a period of war, so tenderness goes hand-in-hand with savagery.  And this is precisely one of the two reasons why the film AND the book are my favourites.  The other reason?  You'll find out at the end of it all when you read or watch Cold Mountain.

For vinophiles

For those of you interested in the wine of North Carolina, this part is for you.

In Asheville, the birth town of Charles Frazier, there is the Biltmore Estate.  (  Here you can stay, wine, and dine in plush luxury.  You can even have your wedding (or reconfirmation of your vows) there.  

In nearby Hendersonville (SSE of Asheville), there are
  • Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards (, famed for their Viognier and Chardonnay
  • Burntshirt Vineyards ( - they make a Spätlese style dessert wine out of Petit Manseng blended with Traminette and Riesling.

For more information about wine in North Carolina, please visit:

A map of the locations of wineries in North Carolina can be found here:

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.