‘HAPPINESS IS A WINE OF RAREST INTEREST…’ *

Having owned a wine company in Bristol in the mid ’70s I became obviously a bit of a connoisseur of the wine industry, to the extent that in the early ’90s I went mad and decided to have my own vineyard in the Dordogne where I had a summer house. Discovering that the part of the land that surrounded the property was once a vineyard encouraged me to dream big and envisage having my own wine label, which I did. The exercise was reasonably successful for 3 years, but the quality of the wine was not what I wished it to be for the earth was not very conducive to the enormity of my dream.

However, my interest in wine remains to this day but more theoretically-based than consumptively, for I drink very little. I was naturally intrigued to read that the company behind Dom Pérignon and Moët & Chandon has launched what it hopes will be the first world-class red wine to be produced in China. The £175-a-bottle red is already seen as a new hope for China’s high-end wine makers, who are desperate to raise their profile overseas after a loss of business at home as a result to President Xi Jinping’s 4-year war on corruption.

The premium wine comes from a rural backwater, nestled 8,900 feet above the Mekong on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, in the country’s south-west, thousands of miles from China’s traditional wine regions of Shandong and Ningxia. A grape there has excited experts at Moët Hennessy, which is part of LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury group and owner of more than 70 brands, including Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and fashion label Fendi.

‘As soon as I started to study the potential of the vineyards and wines, I knew that this wine would deserve an international audience,’ Moët Hennessy estates and wine’s president, Jean-Guillaume Prats, told the South China Morning Post. Moët Hennessy bosses said they launched the new red – which has been seven years in the making – in response to rising interest from global wine connoisseurs for a top-end product from China, as well as expected demand in the domestic market.

The red blend is called Ao Yun, which translates to ‘roaming cloud’ in Chinese. It has already been widely praised by respected wine experts including Ellen McCoy and Jancis Robinson.

Four villages in Dequin, Yunnan Province, were chosen for the new project after MH asked Australian wine scientist Tony Jordan to find the ideal spot for a quality red. Ningxia, in China’s north was considered too cold in the winter. Shandong, the country’s other major wine region in the north-east, was ruled out because of excessive rain. A total of 24,000 bottles will initially be sold but it is thought that the figure could rise to 50,000 in the next five years.

China boasts the second largest clutch of vineyards in the world by surface area, after Spain, with 799,000 hectares (1.97m. acres) dedicated to growing grapes, according to the Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine. But China is struggling to shed its image of being a mass producer of poor quality product. French wine experts have been operating in the country for decades, but local connoisseurs believe the involvement of some of the world’s leading luxury brands can only help China elbow its way to the top table of producers.

I have no doubt that it will, for the Chinese market is huge and the wealthy Chinese who are becoming accustomed to luxury living will multiply in years to come and local demand will subsequently hit the roof. I can’t wait to sample a bottle of Roaming Cloud when it arrives at Fortnum’s,

*Logan Pearsall Smith

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