Sip Thai wine in hills of Hua Hin

Sprawled across a fertile valley, Hua Hin Hills Vineyard is a tourist attraction with scenery, food and drinks in the Thai resort town

As a smooth red wine slides over my taste buds, the shrieking calls of monkeys cut through the air, originating from somewhere to my left, in the tropical jungle near a Buddhist shrine.

In the distance, beyond row after row of grape vines, an Asian elephant plods along in the humid afternoon weather.

I am ensconced in a comfortable armchair at the kind of scenic, upmarket vineyard which is commonplace in my home state, Western Australia. But there are no monkeys, elephants or swathes of jungle in the state's winery-rich southern region.

Instead, I am many thousands of kilometres from home in a country most people would not associate with wine, let alone vineyards.

Hua Hin Hills Vineyard (www.huahinhills.com) is one of the largest of its kind in Thailand, a nation which has shown increasing interest in wine as its middle class has swelled over the past 20 years.

This newfound fascination with wine has led to a burgeoning wine- making industry. Where the Thai wine market once was dominated by imports from Australia, France, Italy and South America, local varieties are now widely sold in high-end restaurants and hotels across the country.

These include Monsoon Valley, the wine made from the grapes selected from the Hua Hin Hills vineyard. Produced at Siam Winery in Samut Sakhon, about 50km south-west of Bangkok, Monsoon Valley was started in 2002.

It was around that time that the Thai wine industry began to flourish and Hua Hin Hills also was established.

Other notable vineyards include GranMonte Estate in Nakhon Ratchasima province, Alcidini in Khao Yai and Silverlake in Chonburi.

There are now almost a dozen such commercial vineyards across Thailand, with Thai wines available in most four- and five-star restaurants across the country. Monsoon Valley is sold in more than a dozen countries abroad.

Hua Hin Hills Vineyard, sprawled across a fertile valley and flanked by green ridges, owns a magnificent location. It is about 35km inland from the beach resort town of Hua Hin, which itself is a three-hour drive south of Bangkok.

Hua Hin Hills has exploited its proximity to this popular resort, offering shuttle buses from downtown Hua Hin and marketing the vineyard as a tourist attraction.

In this way, it is similar to the many Australian wineries which supplement their income by inviting visitors to tour their facilities and then stay on to drink and dine at their on-site restaurants.

Hua Hin Hills has a giant Thai- style pavilion, which features an opulent bar and bistro overlooking the vineyard, and also a gift shop. It clearly targets foreign tourists and well-to-do Thais, and appears to be successful in doing so.

  • GETTING THERE

  • Hua Hin has its own international airport, but there are no direct flight connections with Singapore.

    The easiest way to visit Hua Hin from Singapore is to fly to Bangkok and then catch a bus or taxi to Hua Hin, a journey of slightly more than three hours.

When I arrive at this impressive complex, its carpark is filled with tour buses and expensive cars.

A Thai staff member fluent in English leads me to the lobby, with its giant display wall of Monsoon Valley wines, and on through the huge alfresco dining area.

On a wooden balcony, I am seated at my table, beneath a large umbrella, with sweeping views across the vineyard towards the Gulf of Thailand.

Before settling down to have a meal and sample the wines, visitors can ride elephants through the grounds, take guided tours to learn about its viticulture methods or pedal mountain bikes along forest trails.

Built on the site of a former elephant corral, where wild Asian elephants were domesticated, Hua Hin Hills sprawls across almost 200ha in a lush valley.

But I am here to imbibe. So I clutch a generous glass of Cuvee de Siam Rouge, a bold red with notes of cherry and chocolate, which is among Monsoon Valley's most awarded wines.

Then the food arrives and I am enchanted by the delicate tastes and pleasing textures of foie gras terrine, smoked duck breast on crispy wonton and chilled crab meat and apple timbale. Each dish is fresh, unique and succulent.

I chase the food down with a glass of Monsoon Valley's Chenin Blanc Late Harvest, a sweet white wine that is suitably light and refreshing in the sweltering Thai weather.

It may be the effects of the wine or the satisfied afterglow of a fine meal, but I feel like taking up permanent residence on the restaurant balcony.

The meandering elephants, hollering monkeys and glimmering temple in the nearby jungle remind me this is no typical vineyard.

I feel right at home, yet I am so very far from home.

•The writer is an Australian photojournalist who splits his time between Ireland and Thailand.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 25, 2016, with the headline 'Sip Thai wine in hills of Hua Hin'. Print Edition | Subscribe