Samui Wining & Dining
Demand and Supply

The price of wine can be astronomical in Thailand, but buying it direct from Black Forest brings the costs right down.

 

9It’s a conversation people have sooner rather than later when they’re here. And that’s the price of wine on the island. Going to a nice restaurant for a good meal is easily affordable in Thailand especially when compared to back home. But after the first eye-watering wine bill, many people decide to have the rest of their meals here accompanied by a couple of beers or a cocktail instead of automatically reaching for the wine list.

      And you might think that it would be cheaper to drink wine in your hotel room or at home (if you live here). Have a couple of friends over, fire-up the barbecue, pick up a couple of bottles of wine at the supermarket. But, alas, no. A bottle of no-frills wine at the local 7-Eleven here still costs almost 1,000 baht. That’s a lot of money for a basic bottle of plonk. Again, after doing this once or twice, many people opt for the beer instead.

      So it might seem that selling wine here is doomed to failure from the start. And Matthias Gerbert, the Samui Manager of the wine import company, Black Forest Distribution, acknowledges that it can be difficult. But both he and Black Forest know their demand base inside out, and if a

business wants to buy wine anywhere on Samui, then the Black Forest warehouse in Lamai, near the Post Office, is the best place to start.

      Black Forest was founded in 1994 in Phuket by German expat, Hans-Peter Blumer, who got tired of trying to find decent wine in the area and decided to import it himself. Once he was established, he approached some of the biggest brand names in the business, expanding to include spirits and beer as well as wine. From the start, all these drinks have been sold according to the Black Forest philosophy – getting the best quality first and foremost, then bringing it down to the most reasonable price. But this in itself can be a bit of a challenge, as Matthias explains.

       “All wine is expensive here because of the huge import tax,” he says. “Imported wines will have another 400 per cent or so put on top of the original purchase price. That’s a lot of money to pay, even before we add in the costs of the business and warehousing. So wine can be hard to buy and sell here.”

       Wine is seen as a luxury in Thailand, with almost all of it being imported. There are some vineyards in the northern regions, but most of what they produce is exported to other countries as wine isn’t a fully integrated part of the culture here just yet. Which means it can be a bit of a shock to tourists who are used to having a glass or two of wine with dinner, to find out that even a standard wine can cost more than the food.

      “People are charged a lot for wine here, especially if they don't know where to look for the best prices,” Matthias says. “Hotels and restaurants need to realise that many people go out at night for a meal and even if they’re ordering pizza or pasta, they’ll probably want a glass of wine with it, or a bottle to share. They can opt for the house wine, which should be reasonably priced. But sometimes there’s such a high mark-up by the restaurant that it just prices customers out.”

      “Most restaurants will mark up a bottle of wine by about 120 per cent, which is to be expected. But I ordered a bottle recently in an upmarket restaurant and I knew it would have been purchased by them for a certain price, yet when I got the bill it was ten times higher. Marking up the price to that extent just puts people off buying wine and makes it even harder to buy and sell it here.”

      “Although tourists are still coming to the island during the worldwide economic recession, there’s been a shift in the last couple of years in how they spend their money once they’re here,” Matthias adds, “Which also contributes to the difficulties of selling wine here.”

      “Tourists will still come here and they’ll look for a nice place to stay,” he says. “Most of them don’t mind how much they pay for their room and are happy to pay a bit more to stay somewhere nice. The top end of the market – the 5-star hotels and restaurants – hasn’t been affected as much, as there’ll always be some people for whom money is no problem. But for the 3- and 4-star places, whilst they’re still selling rooms, their food and beverage takings are down. People are still feeling the effects of the economic crisis and they’re more careful about how they spend their money once they’re here. And that affects wine sales.”

      Yet much of the wine Black Forest sells is around 500 baht a bottle, Matthias says. So despite what some restaurant wine lists would indicate, wine really can be more affordable here than you’d think. It can be ordered directly from Black Forest whether you want a case or just a bottle and, with the rise of the wedding industry on Samui, it’s becoming more and more common for couples to contact Black Forest directly to order their wine for the reception. Matthias is more than happy to meet anyone wanting some Black Forest wines, beers or spirits – even for small orders.

      So we’ve established that wine is expensive here. But with Black Forest around, it doesn’t have to cost you 1,000 baht for a bottle of basic plonk. Your only problem will be deciding how many bottles you want.

      

Kathy Ross


 


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