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Stomping grapes for new winery in Thailand

wine label

April 15, 1996
Web posted at: 6:25 p.m. EDT

LOEI, Thailand (CNN) -- Thailand is well known for its hot and spicy foods. But a Thai winery hopes to add a new taste to Thai's spice. (1MB QuickTime movie)

The winery is so new the stainless grape press gleams like a new car on a showroom floor. Huge vats hold the new white wine that will soon be produced, and the vines are ripe with just their second harvest.

From a distance the scene even resembles southern France. But it's not. It's northeastern Thailand where a wine with a French name, Chateau de Loei, is being produced.

Loei region

And while the equipment is new, the vines came from France and the root-stock from California.

To date, 28,000 bottles of wine have been made. But the winery has even bigger plans. A new red wine is being prepared to add variety. And huge wooden barrels -- currently empty -- will eventually be filled with brandy.

A winery in Thailand, you say?

Conventional wisdom might suggest the reason the French grapes are being grown in Thailand is the low cost of labor in the region. Workers are paid less than the equivalent of $3 per day.

However, the weather possibly plays more of a factor than cheap labor. Unlike most of the world, Thailand's climate enables a second harvest, which in turn means twice the number of grapes.

grapes

The winery is owned by Thai businessman Chaijudh Karnasuta who gained his wealth in construction but always hoped to be a farmer.

But growing grapes is different than owning buildings. Diseases and insects kill vines, and bad weather constantly annoys farmers who hope for ideal weather conditions.

Nonetheless, Karnasuta remains optimistic.

"Anybody in business is optimistic by nature. If you are not optimistic, you may become a government official," he said.

Helping Karnasuta remain optimistic is Michel Rippes, a wine master imported from France to insure that the Thai wine was done correctly. Thus far, Rippes is satisfied with his concoction, just as if it were vintage French wine.

The wine has garnered popularity among Thai diplomats. The Thai prime minister even served it to European visitors at a recent summit meeting in Bangkok.

From CNN Correspondent Tom Mintier


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