New Fine Wine Release – Ao Yun

Ao Yun is one of the most fascinating and exciting new wines in the world. It combines classical French winemaking and Tibetan farming, from one of the most incredible sites imaginable in the Northwest corner of China’s Yunnan province. It is produced by Moët Hennessy (Owners of Bordeaux Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem) in the foothills of the Himalayas near the legendary Shangri-La. This remote hidden paradise among the Mountains, is a world Unesco protected area in the three rivers region. It is grown on a patchwork of 314 tiny plots, on both sides of the Mekong, spread across four extremely high villages ranging from 2200m to 2600m. This breathtaking mountain terroir has no equivalent anywhere else on Earth, hence the name Ao Yun – ‘flying above the clouds’.

The local Tibetan people have worked this land for centuries, building millions of terraces that now play host to this unique expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Planted in 2002, no one has ever attempted to grow these varieties at this altitude before. The sunshine hours are quite short due to the shadows from the steep valleys, but UV levels and temperature variation from day to night are much higher. Combined with being situated at low latitude, but at such high altitude, means there is a significantly longer ripening period from flower to harvest than in Bordeaux or anywhere else in the World (140-160 days v 100-120). There is also very little rain fall here, which means no mildew or botrytis, allowing everything to be farmed organically.

This is an incredibly difficult undertaking in this location, Moët Hennessy searched the world for four years before finding this special site. The project is led by CEO Jean-Guillaume Prats, who was lured away from his 15 year position as Director of Chateau Cos d’Estournel. He then convinced Cheval Blanc winemaker Maxence Dulou, to bring his wife and two Children to this remote corner of China. To reach there from Shanghai, requires a three hour flight to the Yunnan capital of Kunming, then another hours flight over the Mountain tops to Shangri-La. You then have to endure a five hour drive over a twisting 4500m Mountain pass, to reach the new winery in the tiny village of Adong. Every single part of the operation was painstakingly brought in from France to ensure the highest quality, all the winemaking equipment, Oak barrels, bottles, corks and labels travelling this arduous route. This is a true human adventure in winemaking. A collaboration between Maxence, his Chinese technical team, and 120 Tibetan farming families who practice the viticulture to an extraordinarily high standard. Everything is done by hand working plant by plant, it takes 4 times more man hours in the vineyard here than in Bordeaux.

We were privileged to drink the 2014 Ao Yun at the New Zealand release, exclusively for Glengarry. This is only the second vintage and production is just 34,000 bottles with very little available in China. The blend is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc, but tastes like no other region. Ao Yun is a sophisticated and graceful wine, with a freshness and purity unlike anything else. Despite being aged in 100% new oak, it is focused and elegant. There is a superb balance between the wild black fruit and Pauillac like graphite, minerality/acidity and the sweet polished tannin structure. Ao Yun offers something truly unique to the world of Fine Wine and we are very excited to have an allocation.