One of the ironic things about working in wine is that most of us are so busy that we too rarely sit down and actually reflect on an individual wine. Instead we rush around from one tasting to the next, swishing, spitting and judging in a matter of mere seconds what took somebody else a year or often much more to produce. For 2021, my goal is to spend more time contemplating wines––even if it means I ultimately taste fewer––and taking the time to speak with the people behind them––even if, for the time being, it’s mainly over the internet.
In that vein, I want to share an excerpt from my conversation with Maxence Dulou, estate director and winemaker of the toweringly ambitious Ao Yun, located in Shangri-La in Yunnan Province or, as they are calling it, the first Grand Cru of the Himalayas, upon the release of their 2017 vintage.
The terroir for Ao Yun was found and recommended to Moët Hennessy by [Australian winemaker and scientist] Dr. Tony Jordan after four years’ search. Do you know what drove him to choose this particular area of Yunnan rather than a more established region?
In 2008 we asked Tony Jordan to search for a dream location. We wanted to produce a world class wine in China but one that had more finesse rather than power. Tony Jordan has spent 30 years pushing people to increase finesse in wine and he’s full of integrity; if he couldn't find it he would just tell us so.
After two years Tony came back to Paris and explained there were many climates that didn't fit our objectives: the East and South were too wet with too many monsoons. In the areas where the new wineries are now (Ningxia, Xinjiang) the winters are too cold so you need to bury the vines and the summers are too hot so you risk losing the freshness we wanted.
He understood that he'd need to find a microclimate. In the North you can't both cool down the summer and warm up the winter but in the southern part if you find something that is in a rain shadow you can get what you need. What he found was a place with three parallel North/South rivers separated by 5,000-7,000m mountains creating climates with far less rain than outside the valleys (actually similar rainfall to France). From there we can play with the altitude from 2,200 up to 2,600m above sea level, which changes the timing of the harvest.