By Baptiste, Global Wining
After a month spent in South Africa and a 7-day transition in Hong Kong, the time to explore China and its freshly planted vineyards had come. This blog post was probably meant to be written at the end of the whole China trip, but after all the diversity I came across with in the Yunnan region, I had to share my excitement. First time ever in China, my expectations as well as my prejudices on the Chinese culture were high. I was hasty and excited to begin the trip.
We started with the Yunnan province, which is fairly small in terms of wine production, but has recently been precipitated at the front stage of the wine industry with the LVMH project Ao Yun. Unfortunately, the domain only opens its door to a few visits per year for exclusive customers and journalists, but we had the opportunity to meet with Maxence Dulou, the winemaker, in the wonderful and delicious Karma Café of Shangri La.
The Shangri-La vineyards are a 4-hour drive from the city of Shangri-La. Located at the same latitude as Morocco, its total area covers 300Ha of vines, mostly planted in 2002 on steep terraces between 2200m to 2600m altitude. The vineyard land, controlled by the Chinese government, is exploited by 4 wine estates including 28 Ha for Ao Yun.
Starting in 2009, it took Tony Jordan 4 years to conclude that this place was the most appropriate terroir of China to produce the wine identity Moët Hennessy was looking for.
At a first glance, such a hostile environment seems completely inadequate to grow any sorts of vines. The 28 Ha are divided in more than 300 parcels on terraces, modern technologies such as drones are useless due to the complexity of the topography, sunlight exposure during the day is drastically reduced because of the high summits surrounding the vineyards, time from flowering to harvesting is increased to 160 days, and winemaking blend has to be made in Hong-Kong near the sea level to eliminate any taste-bias from the altitude.
But nothing to discourage LVMH! In 2013, the French company appointed the experienced winemaker Maxence Dulou to make its dream come true: express this unique terroir to produce the finest wine made in China. Driven by the entrepreneurial spirit and the passion for details of Maxence, a complex organization of local farmers was set up to health-check every single vine by hand.
With Ao Yun, LVMH has initiated a new era of luxury wines in China, and the project has proven a successful wager so far in many experts, but informal, blind-tastings. Selling around 280€ a bottle, and limiting production to 2000 cases a year, we had the pleasure to taste the delicious 2014 vintage with Maxence. Ao Yun, meaning flying above the clouds, is not only one of the finest and most expensive wine made in China, but also the wine lab of Moët Hennessy. Quality, refined elegance and pioneering are the key words that drive the vision of Maxence, whatever it takes or costs.