Pailin longan wine has come a long way since its owner’s first attempts to produce the wine in 2008. It was only in 2018 that Vuoch Thuch sold some farmland – and even his car – to finance his first run of 2,000 bottles, produced in 20 litre plastic containers.

At the time, his neighbours thought he was crazy, and even suggested his wife divorce him. Thuch had the last laugh when his initial run sold out at the 2018 Koh Kong provincial fair.

By 2018, production had ramped up, and he had registered his logo. In 2020, his brand – Palowin – was registered as his intellectual property.

This month, Thuch and his team accomplished his initial goal of shipping 5,000 bottles – the yield from five tonnes of good quality longan – per month.

But it turns out this is just one small step on the path to industrial production. Thanks to financial capital from canny investors, Palowin has begun the process of automating production. Although a full-fledged factory may not be online until early next year, the 39-year-old wine maker said the imported equipment which has already arrived will allow for a massive increase in production.

“I will buy at least 75 tonnes of Pailin longan this month. Assuming the flesh is of high quality, it will produce 1,000 bottles per tonne. This means I expect to bottle 75,000 bottles per month from now on,” he announced.

It will not end there. Once his factory, in Pailin commune’s Ta Nen Leu village of Pailin town, is complete, he has initial plans to process up to 100 tonnes each month. In the future, as his wines enter more and more markets, this may grow tenfold.

Thuch originally conceived of producing the wine after noting that almost 30 per cent of the longan in Pailin was discarded. Current total production in the province barely exceeds 75 tonnes in total, so he and his investors are already looking further afield to supplement provincial production.

“Once the factory is fully operational and the production chains have been optimised and perfected, there is no reason why we could not be turning out several million bottles each month. Our range will include several different products, including three to five per cent alcohol drinks, up to our 14 per cent wine,” he said.

The start of a 75,000 bottle monthly output does not mean they will be brought to market this month, or even the next. Longan wine must be cellared for at least six months before it is suitable aged and ready for sale.

“We are on target to sell 75,000 bottles in the month of next year’s Khmer New Year,” he said.

When supply is sufficient to match demand, he intends to see his wine sold in every town and city across the Kingdom.

While some criticised the growth of alcohol production, Thuch spoke positively about the benefits of his product.

“If consumers use Palowin according to instructions, it will provide many health benefits,” he said.

He added that while many companies did not contribute to their local communities, his factory would buy longans from farmers in all of the three or four provinces that produce them.

Thuch said that he had overcome many obstacles to make it to the stage he was now at. From learning how to produce the wine, to designing a label and marketing it, to sourcing investment capital, he had made many sacrifices. He was also proud that he was one of the few people buying longan fruit from farmers, at a time when there was little demand.

“Many companies import their raw materials, like wheat, as it does not grow here in the Kingdom. My business buys only Cambodian farmer’s produce. What’s more, the production of alcohol means that there is expiration date, so there is no risk of losing capital investment,” he added.

Pailin provincial agriculture department director Say Sophat said that from the beginning of the year until November, the province had harvested almost 7,000 tonnes of longans.

“As of early November, farmers have harvested a total of 6,900 tonnes of Pailin longans, of which about 500 tonnes were exported to China,” he added.

The huge future demand for longans which the winery will create was may affect the market price of the fruit, said Thuch, as would an increase of orders from China. He was unconcerned, however.

“His expansion of wine production will not face any supply obstacles. The increased demand will lead to increased production, so the price should very too much. We expect the increases in both export and domestic processing of this fruit,” said Sophat.

Last July, Thuch received a valuable marketing boost when US ambassador W Patrick Murphy paid a visit to his winery.

Thuch said that Murphy had commended his business plan, saying that Cambodia had encountered a crisis in selling agricultural products to new markets in recent years.

Patrick Murphy wrote on his Twitter account: “I tasted Pailin longan wine for the first time today at the Pailin Longan Wine Handicraft. Congratulations to the young entrepreneur Vuoch Thuch for his small business and continue your operation.”

“Although we are on our way to being fully automated, the scale of our operation means we will employ between 15 and 50 workers. We want to contribute to our local community as much as possible,” said Thuch.

He added that he and his partners also wanted to see the growers of Pailin longans with smiles on their faces and the chance of a prosperous life for every family. This was the driving force behind the establishment of the factory.