Wine & Dining

Thailand’s Bordeaux

Complaining is part of my nature. Those who take time to read my column with any regularity, starting its sixth year incidentally, have probably got used to skipping my regular diatribe about the adverse impact the government’s dunderheaded excise taxes on wine have had on tourism, our health (not kidding), and our own wine industry. I made one of those breakable New Year’s resolutions on January 1 to change my mantra after deciding my complaints were about as futile as the chronic yapping of my neighbour’s “mop” dog – nobody’s paying any attention. But,a phone call and subsequent meeting last week rekindled at least part of my compulsion to keep protesting. No, the PM didn’t call and capitulate, but a man with a commitment to his homeland and wine, Dr Pathom Vongsuratavana, asked if i could join him for lunch.

For sure I didn’t know who he was until he judiciously mentioned owning Chateau Saint Lo, a small 15-hectare Grand Cru classified property in St Emilion, France. Any of you familiar with wine will remember their distinctive label featuring the Golden Jubilee emblem of HM the King featured in so many local shops. Stay with me on this because it gets better as it goes!
l met Dr Pathom, his wife Martine, and one of their sons, Raphael (also soon to be Dr of history), at their hotel where after being seated for lunch we were each poured a glass of wine. Having assumed this was the latest vintage of Chateau Saint Lo, I swirled and tasted, noting the wine’s somewhat disjointed youth but distinct potential. Raphael courteously interrupted my thoughts saying “we have a little surprise to present”.

I perused the label noting the name “Domaine Saint Lo”, vintage 2001, cabernet sauvignon, then at the bottom – Product of Thailand!

At this point the waiter set the bottle in front of me and I methodically perused the label noting the name “Domaine Saint Lo”, vintage 2001, cabernet sauvignon, then at the bottom -Product of Thailand! What unfolded over the next hour and a half was an intriguing story of commitment to wine and a desire by Dr Pathom to share that interest with his native country. It’s also a story of success through diligence by a family that is at once very Thai and very French, uniquely amalgamated into today’s global society by a patriarch with one foot firmly planted in Asia and the other in Europe. Sent by his family to study in France in the 1960, Dr Pathom stayed on at university in Bordeaux to earn a PhD in law and economics. Upon graduating he plied his Asian and European business acumen to developing major Cognac sales in Japahandllong Kong. In 1991 an opportunity to purchase Chateau Saint Lo signalled a shift in his export business toward wine, while also thrusting him into the enviable position of being the only Thai owner of a French chateau, and at that just when wine started booming as a beverage of choice here at home.

Wine is as much a part of Dr Pathom’s family as the distilled spirit business, with both he and son Raphael having studied oenology in Bordeaux under such notables as Dr Emile Peynaud. Upon convincing Raphael, already an award-winning author, to give up a career in academia, they bought another St Emilion estate, Chateau Le Merle, and very quietly but methodically launched a major project here in Thailand. After many months of regional climate and soil studies, a 100-hectare site in Phetchabun’s Khao Kor “little Switzerland” hill country was chosen in 1996 for a new winery operation.

Leaving the travails of developing the vineyards and winery for another column, let me advise that the first vintage is now available, and you’d be crazy not to try it. This is real cabernet aged four months in oak, modest berry and pepper aroma, medium body with good balance and pleasant finish. No excuses necessary for this completely Thai wine which represents quality consistent with competent winemaking from vineyard to bottle.
At Bt355 it’s a good buy despite the double burden of excise taxes AND investment taxes. It’s living proof that quality wines can be made in Thailand, and that the outrageous taxes on those willing to try it need revision. It’s available at Big C’s stores owing to a long standing association between the family and Big C’s French investor. More later on this remarkable venture by some remarkable people.

The Nation,Sunday january 27,2002

Raphaël Vongsuravatana – Pathom Vongsuravatana – Thaïlande – Mentions légales – Martine Vongsuravatana – Château Saint Lô – Siam – Thaï Memory