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Making wine in Thailand ‘good preparation for climate change’

Kathrin Puff, winemaker at the award-winning Siam Winery in Thailand, reckons the unique climate she works in is excellent preparation for climate change.

‘Terroir becomes more complicated’…Kathrin Puff

Siam Winery, whose Monsoon Valley Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2012 won a major regional trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards this year, while four of her other wines won bronze and commended medals, is one of the so-called ‘New Latitude’ wineries that are making headlines for the quality of their wines.

While 99% of the world’s wine regions lie between the 30th and 50th parallels, Siam is on the 13th parallel, its vineyards situated around Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand. The tropical climate brings challenges to the grapegrower which are at present little known in the old world – but as temperatures rise, may spread to more temperate zones.

‘As the world is on the verge of climate change, in Thailand we are experiencing, on a daily basis, conditions that are just beginning to happen in other places,’ Puff, who has done six vintages at Siam, told Decanter.com.

These include diseases which are common in warm wet climates, such as the fungus anthracnose, and other problems such as lack of acidity and high pH.

In tropical climates ‘terroir becomes more complicated… you have to work harder in the cellar to balance problems out.’

For example, with only 12 daylight hours in all seasons, ripening red grapes becomes much more difficult, and a good deal of care has to be taken during vinification – including cold soaking before fermentation and very short skin maceration – to avoid green flavours.

As the Thai wine industry is a the very beginning of its learning curve, there is a programme of constant experimentation at Siam – itself very new to the wine business: it was founded in 1986 as a drinks business but did not make wines until 2004.

There are some 100 experimental rows planted, with everything from Aglianico and Prosecco to Semillon and ‘some weird varieties’, Puff says. ‘We are only just beginning to understand which varieties work best where.’

As the winery gets better known, the Düsseldorf-born winemaker says, an increasing number of winemakers and students search her out for internships. Siam also has some celebrity fans: ‘King Gustaf and Queen Sophia of Sweden come every year. He likes the Colombard very much.’

The key varietals produced are Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Muscat and Shiraz. The latter three all won medals this year at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

Siam also produces sparkling wines from Colombard, Chenin and Viognier, a sparkling rosé from Shiraz, and single varietal Shiraz and Sangiovese.

Siam Winery produces around 350,000 bottles, of which 50% are exported. Some 100,000 bottles are sold in the UK, retailing at around £10 per bottle. Puff aims increase production to 500,000 bottles, she says.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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