Arguably one of the best (and most exclusive wines) being made in China right now is Ao Yun, the LVMH-owned winery that sits in the almost-mystical highlands of the Himalayas. LVMH is no stranger to making some of the best wines in the world, owning some of the most prestigious estates in France – from Chateau D’Yquem to Krug – and Ao Yun seems to be directed with the goal of moving towards a similar greatness, evidenced by the winery’s most recent release, the 2016 vintage.
It’s a nascent winery with the latest release being just its third, but Ao Yun has shown every intention to make better wine each year – with increased understanding of the land, and winemaking details that cater to the unique situation the winery is in. For starters, the 28 hectares of land the winery owns – which is leased to 120 Tibetan farming families across four villages – covers a diverse range of soil types and climatic conditions. This resulted in the identification of 900 sub-parcels, which have been classified into 30 different terroir types – all documented on a complicated terroir map so that viticulture can be customised for each.
2016 also saw the first time the blending of the wine was done at sea level. In order to blend accurately, wine samples from Ao Yun were shipped all the way to Hong Kong so that its team’s sense of taste and smell would not be affected by the high altitude in the Himalayas. Because Ao Yun is made so high up, even the storage of the wine needed particular attention. The winery makes use of clay jars – similar to amphorae – that are traditionally used in the production of baijiu. This porous, breathable vessel allows for a higher rate of oxygen exchange compared to oak, and compensates for the lower oxygen levels in the Himalayas.
Shares Ao Yun’s technical director and estate manager Maxence Dulou, “This vintage signifies the rebirth of our wine through new plantings, new terroirs and new grapes varieties that contribute complexity and elegance.”
This particular vintage has also been marked by cool weather followed by a warm season that ensured optimal ripeness in the grapes. The result is an exceptional vintage with a balanced, layered bottle that would do beautifully with 30 years in a cellar or – for the sake of education – in a glass.