Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In China’s Himalayas, a fine wine ‘flying above the clouds’




In China’s Himalayas, a fine wine ‘flying above the clouds’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A farmer harvests grapes at the Ao Yun vineyards located beneath the Meili mountain in southwestern China’s Yunnan province. French luxury giant Moet Hennessy has bet on this remote location to show China can produce a first-class wine. FRED DUFOUR/afp

In China’s Himalayas, a fine wine ‘flying above the clouds’

ONE $300 bottle of wine sold in the US and Europe is made in the unlikeliest of places: at the foot of the Himalayas in China, where farmers sing traditional songs while picking grapes.

A stone’s throw away from Tibet, Ao Yun’s vineyards are located beneath the sacred Meili mountain at altitudes ranging up from 2,200 metres in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

While wine consumption is soaring in China, it is not known as a major producer, but French luxury giant Moet Hennessy has bet on this remote location to show the Asian country can produce a first-class bottle of red.

It took four years for the company to find the ideal spot in the vast country and the result was Ao Yun, Chinese for “flying above the clouds”, which debuted in 2013.

“The place is magical, it has this wild side,” Maxence Dulou, Ao Yun’s estate manager, told AFP as he carefully inspected the grapes at one of the vineyards.

Dulou, 43, said he had “dreamed” of discovering a great “terroir” – the unique French term for the ground and climatic conditions in which grapes are grown – in Chinasince his university days.

The company wanted to show that a great wine could be made in China, where even local consumers trust French wines more than homegrown products, he said.

The smooth full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc has surprised many wine lovers.

Only 2,000 cases are produced per year and are sold in China, other Asian countries, the US and Europe.

East meets West

Moet Hennessy leased the vineyards for 30 years from local farmers in 2012 – a decade after the municipal government encouraged villagers to switch from growing barley to grapevines in an attempt to kickstart the wine industry.

But without proper knowledge or training, they floundered until the luxury giant turned up, bringing a wealth of expertise and resources to four villages: Adong, Shuori, Sinong and Xidang.

The vineyards are situated in the middle of the Mekong, Yangtze and Salween rivers, a unique location which boasts moderate temperatures all year round so the vines do not need to be buried to prevent them from freezing in the winter.

The property is divided into more than 300 small parcels spread over 28ha and grapes are harvested by hand, requiring four times more work hours on average than the biggest vineyards in the world.

For villagers like 42-year-old Ci Liwudui, who leases out his land and has family members working on the vineyard, the transformation of the farms that once grew basic crops into bustling, profitable businesses was a godsend.

“It has brought good changes to the four villages, lots of change, we don’t have to worry about money, people don’t have to go out to work laborious jobs anymore,” Ci said.

Dulou attributes the wine’s success to the collaboration between East and West.

“The Chinese are very creative and they are not afraid of change and that’s extraordinary because you can be the most creative in the world, but if you are afraid of change there is no creativity,” the viniculturist said.

Revamping ‘Made in China’

China’s appetite for wine has matured over the last 10 years, led by its burgeoning middle class. The country is set to become the world’s second largest wine consumer by 2021.

China’s wine market was worth $71 billion last year and is expected to grow 27 per cent in the next five years to nearly $91 billion, according to research group Euromonitor.

However, Chinese consumers are turning their noses up at local wines, as imported wine consumption grew over 17 per cent year-on- year last year while domestic wine sales plummeted for the fifth consecutive year.

Chinese wine has had a history of inconsistent quality, but Dulou is determined to change the prejudice attached to the term “Made in China”.

“I think that little by little, Chinese people will realise that we can make great products in China, notably wines,” he said.

“We do everything with passion, and we do it with utmost precision to make the best wine possible, to have the best grape possible, and to be one of the companies that revamp ‘Made in China’.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Without shoes or a helmet, a young cyclist steals the show

    Pech Theara gripped the curved handlebars of his rusty old bike, planted his bare feet on its pedals and stormed as fast as he could towards the finish line. The odds were against him as the 13-year-old faced off against kids with nicer bikes at

  • Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway on schedule

    The construction of the more than $1.9 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway has not been delayed despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 26 per cent of the project completed and expected to finish in about two years, according to Ministry of Public Works and Transport secretary of

  • Singapore group seeks $14M in damages from PPSP over ‘breach of contract’

    Singapore-based Asiatic Group (Holdings) Ltd is seeking a minimum of $14.4 million relief from Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX)-listed Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone Plc (PPSP) for allegedly breaching a power plant joint venture (JV) agreement. Asiatic Group’s wholly-owned Colben System Pte Ltd and 95 per

  • Over 110 garment factories close

    A government official said on November 22 that at least 110 garment factories had closed in the first nine months of the year and left more than 55,000 workers without jobs – but union leaders worry those numbers could be much higher. Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training undersecretary

  • PM dispels lockdown rumours, gifts masks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on November 12 denied rumours that he will lock down the country in response to increased Covid-19 fears, referring to them as propaganda aimed at destabilising the country. In a Facebook post, he said some people had spread rumours that the government

  • SilkAir adds flight to Phnom Penh schedule

    Silkair (Singapore) Pte Ltd is increasing its flight frequency between Phnom Penh and Singapore with a third weekly flight on Saturdays, according to Cambodia Airports’ Facebook page. The other flights offered are on Tuesdays and Sundays, with an estimated Phnom Penh arrival time at 5:35pm