"Cambodia is home to a single winery. We're both fond of the occasional glass of wine so we thought we'd pop in. The tasting was certainly an experience and features red wine, brandy, grape juice and a honey ginger drink. Cambodia doesn't have a tradition of wine drinking, hence the diversification into other products."
In the vineyard
On the road between Battambang and the temple of Phnom Banan you will find
the only vineyards in Cambodia. It's only 10 kilometers (just about 20 minutes by car) or so away from city center. Itís a bit of a rural area, so along the way you can see traditional Cambodian houses Ė elevated!
When Leng Chan Thol and her husband Chan Thay Chhoueng decided to grow grapes
for wine production just outside Battambang city, people thought they were
crazy. Mr Chan Thay Chhoueng started growing fruit grapes in 2000 as an alternative to the usual rice or oranges that dominate agriculture in Battambang province. The vineyard is the brainchild and business of Mr Chan They Chhoeung. You could almost miss it if you blinked; a small blue signpost on the left hand side of the road with the name of the owner in English and Khmer and a small painting of a bunch of grapes.
She has around 3 hectares under vine; half of which grow fruit grapes, the Black Queen, the other half wine producing grapes. She wants to expand the amount of wine producing vines she has planted, but land is expensive and producing Cambodiaís only wine is a costly business. The Phnom Banon Winery produces several thousand bottles of wines, brandy and fresh grape juice per year.
The trellises, pruning and care of the vines are all self-taught, as is her knowledge of the fermentation process. A few years after she started, a random French tourist was passing the vineyard and he could not believe what he saw when he saw the rows of carefully tended vines, so he strolled into the house to find out what was going on. After he returned home to France at the end of his holiday he posted several books on viticulture and wine making back to her, which she painstakingly read using a French / Khmer dictionary, word by word.
The fermentation process takes place in plastic barrels for ease and speed, the grapes being crushed by hand. After this first step, the wine is transferred to stainless steel barrels for the next six months, being filtered and the barrels changed every month before bottling. The bottles are French are bought from a wholesaler in Thailand, the corks and foil capsules are from Italy. A local printer in Battambang Town makes the labels to her own design.
Harvest time comes twice a year, and harvesting 8,000 plants by hand is no easy task. In fact she has to hire in as many people as she can afford to help, ensuring that fermentation can be started the same day.
It is possible to visit the only winery in Cambodia and walk around the vineyards. You can also taste some of the produced wines, brandies and juices for $ 6,00. And of course if you like them it is possible to purchase bottles of Cambodian wine or brandy directly at the Prasat Phnom Banon Winery.
For the wine tasting at the winery, we tasted some pretty good Shiraz, some pure grape juice, grape brandy, and pure ginger nectar.
Inside is a large ornate hardwood table, several chairs and a bar display showing off bottles of her latest vintage. To the side a glass cabinet contains a selection of tasting glasses, presumably to protect them from the dusty road that is, almost hidden behind the building.
From a Travel Blog:
"For the wine tasting at the winery, there was a red wine, brandy, grape juice, and honey ginger juice. Unfortunately, the alcohols were quite rubbish. While staying in Battambang, I stayed at a place named Here Be Dragons, a very nice hostel, perfect except for the lack of hot water showers. Amazingly relaxing: I joined in the hostelís quiz night Ė where the most losing team won a round of shots. Chili shots. Iím told they tasted quite bad."