Ao Yun is produced in the northwestern part of the Yunnan province near the legendary city of Shangri-la. The vineyards are high–altitude at between 2,200 and 2,600 meters. Moët’s vineyard comprises about 27 hectares in total, where the vineyards are mostly cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. The vineyards were planted 10 years ago.
About 15,000 bottles of the first vintage, 2013, were produced – 3,000 of a first wine and 12,000 of the second. Price is about 300 Euros a bottle.
The 2013 Ao Yun Shangri-La is the best Chinese wine I have ever tasted. The blended red, which is cabernet sauvignon with a touch of cabernet franc, has the structure and backbone comparable to top reds from around the world. It’s wonderful to drink now but will be even better in three to four years when the firm tannins soften. Click here to see my tasting note if you subscribe to the site.
“I try to find comparable things to it but it’s hard,” admitted Jean-Guillaume Prats, president and CEO of Estate & Wines Moët Hennessy, under which Ao Yun is managed. “It has no benchmark. There is nothing, literally nothing there. It is unique and came from a tiny place in a remote part of the world.”
Prats and others say that the Ao Yun project began after years of searching China, even some of the remotest parts such as Northern Yunnan. Most wine regions in China are very humid and hot during the summer. Some are freezing cold in the winter. It makes grape growing challenging at best. I first visited China’s key vineyard areas in 1988 and the difficulty then in growing quality grapes and making quality wines continues. Many wineries still blend wines from outside China with their locally produced ones to make up for the problems.
The high–altitude vineyards of Ao Yun – some of the highest in the world – attracted Moët Hennessy because of its relatively mild climate and intense sunlight. (Ao Yun means “flying above the clouds” in Chinese) The rainy season is much less intense than such wine areas as the Shandong Peninsula. The winter is not as extreme as the Ningxia area where vines must be buried under the earth to survive the severe cold. Grape growing seems slightly easier in the Yunnan region.
In Ao Yun, local farmers cultivate the vines by hand, just like the rest of the 500 hectares of terraced vineyards in the region. Grapes are grown organically. The small, beautiful winery still has very little in winemaking equipment yet the results are impressive. “The grapes we harvest were all destemmed by hand,” said Prats. “We had no temperature control. There was simply nothing. But we are very happy with the first results.”
Photos from top to bottom: terraced vineyards in Ao Yun in Yunnan province; Ao Yun Shangri-La 2013