THE ESSENCE OF MAXENCE

Ao Yun

Prestige Indonesia - - Contents -

THIS AN in­vest­ment would be akin to damn­ing it with scant praise, for Ao Yun’s sec­ond vin­tage has just hit the wine mar­ket, one that might make a lesser oenophile squirm — un­less, of course, you re­ally like it. Many do, from the likes of Jan­cis Robin­son, Elin McCoy, Jasper Mor­ris and John Stimp­fig, with a star­tling price point to match (about £225 a bot­tle), fi­nally prompt­ing one to ask a per­ti­nent ques­tion: “Who on earth is Maxence Du­lou?”

“Du­lou” is French on both sides; the first name, af­ter a Ro­man em­peror, and the last, “from the wolf” (even though it’s not spelt with a “p”). His wife is Chilean and they have two chil­dren aged seven and eight. She’s keen on travel and learn­ing Chi­nese, though they have cer­tainly moved miles from home — to Shangri-La, near the vine­yards where he works. Ao Yun, which means “roam­ing above the clouds”, is owned by Moët Hen­nessy Louis Vuit­ton ( LVMH) and is its sec­ond in China af­ter the sparkling wine in Ningxia. Du­lou pre­vi­ously worked in Bordeaux at Chateau Quin­ault L’En­c­los (un­der Chateau Che­val Blanc), Bur­gundy at Do­maine Michel Cail­lot, as well as two years each in Chile and South Africa.

He then joined Moët Hen­nessy and was ap­pointed its Es­tate Man­ager and Wine­maker in 2015, over­see­ing its 28 hectares in North­ern Yun­nan, in De­qin county in Diqing pre­fec­ture, nes­tled be­low Meili Snow Moun­tain. This com­prises 314 plots of vines on ei­ther side of the Mekong on the edge of the Hi­malayas in Adong, Si­nong, Shuori, and Xi­dang at al­ti­tudes of be­tween 2,200 and 2,600 me­tres. This cy­cle of­fers four more hours of sun­light per day, the flow­er­ing pe­riod it­self is 140 to 160 days (while Bordeaux en­joys 100 to 120 days).

The past July saw the re­lease of Ao Yun 2014 in Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia (and the rest of Asia af­ter), and I sat down with Maxence, 42, af­ter a serv­ing of 90 per­cent Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon and 10 per­cent Caber­net Franc, with wok-fried beef fil­let, shal­lot black pep­per, clay­pot glass noo­dles and wild mush­rooms, to dis­cuss the in­tri­ca­cies of his day job.

JEAN- GUIL­LAUME PRATS, YOUR CEO, LIKES TO JOKE THAT YOU HAVE TO EN­JOY “YAK MEAT, TOMA­TOES AND MUSH­ROOMS IN THE LONG HAUL”. You have to eat those?! Well, we have lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and very good veg­eta­bles and, in terms of meat, we are not so well-served — we do have yak meat, which is a lit­tle tough! But, you know, if you don’t ex­plain, oth­ers don’t un­der­stand. And these oth­ers also don’t un­der­stand that you can make a great wine in China even though China is as big as Europe, so they are a bit scared.

TAST­ING THE WINE FOR THE FIRST TIME TO­DAY IS DIF­FER­ENT — A BIT OF OLD WORLD FROM RIBERA DEL DUERO AND A BIT OF NAPA VAL­LEY. BUT IT’S NOT QUITE ONE THING. Yes, I com­pletely agree. There is the pro­gres­sive­ness and the

fresh­nesssh­ness of the Old WWorld with the con­cen­tra­tion and the soft­ness of the New World. This is why we travel — to learn about pro­cesses from Cal­i­for­nia and from the Douro Val­ley in Por­tu­gal, to pick up things we can learn. The end of sea­son is look­ing more like the New World and the be­gin­ning sea­son is a mix be­tween New and Old World. This ter­roir where we are is dif­fer­ent from those that we know. One needs to adapt the way one thinks and the way one acts, and I have the chance to adapt pro­cesses that I have learnt be­fore. You have to be cre­ative.

DID YOU EX­PECT THIS TO HAP­PEN WHEN YOU MADE THIS WINE? I would say that if we thought we could not have made a great wine in China, we’d prob­a­bly not have done this project. Af­ter we an­a­lysed the cli­mate, we could see the vine­yard at 15 years old, planted by the lo­cal farm­ers and can taste the grapes there. This was very ex­cep­tional be­cause we had the ma­ture vine­yard and we had the tools to say that we had a good place to try.

HOW MANY BOT­TLES HAVE YOU MADE OF THIS VIN­TAGE? The 2014 is 34,000 bot­tles, or 2,900 cases of 12. The last vin­tage, 2013, was 24,000 bot­tles, but what we did was to select the best grapes, the best blocks to do the first wine, and af­ter­wards if there were enough grapes, we can do a sec­ond wine and the rest we can

sell in bulk. For the 2014, the yields are smaller and we didn’t do a sec­ond wine. It’s a great se­lec­tion and the best we can do.

YOU’VE GOT 314 PLOTS BUT WHAT IS THE SIZE OF EACH BLOCK? The av­er­age size of each block is 700 sqm. That’s very, very small and very com­pli­cated to man­age. This also lends com­plex­ity to the wine — even if each block is so small, it needs to be di­vided into dif­fer­ent parts that we will man­age in com­pletely dif­fer­ent ways in or­der to adapt to soil type. And there’s spe­cial han­dling, like our us­ing ter­ra­cotta jars that were used for bai­jiu. That was my idea be­cause we didn’t want to put too much new oak into the first vin­tage and we didn’t want to buy old oak from out­side be­cause it would trans­mit micro­organ­isms that we might not like. So we took the op­por­tu­nity to try these jugs. That’s an ex­am­ple of cre­ativ­ity: We used new ones rather than those from Chengdu, so you don’t taste any bai­jiu inside.

SO THIS IS A NEW “IN­TER­PRE­TA­TION” OF CABER­NET SAU­VI­GNON, WOULD YOU SAY? Yes, it’s Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon and the man­ager of the team is the ter­roir. We had 120 fam­i­lies in the vine­yard but two or three per­sons per fam­ily so you can do the count, be­tween 200 and 300 per­sons in the vine­yard, though not at the same time. We rent our vine­yard across four dif­fer­ent vil­lages, with one lo­cal chief vil­lager and one vine­yard as­sis­tant as a per­ma­nent team in each vil­lage, and there’s an of­fice team in ShangriLa. These lo­cal farm­ers are Chi­nese, many from Ti­betan cul­ture, but we col­lab­o­rate well. They have bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions and are paid bet­ter than be­fore, and now we are leas­ing the vine­yard and man­ag­ing the space. Prior to this, they worked alone but now they work in groups of 10 each T and they have a half-hour break in the morn­ing and an­other half-hour break in the evening.

HOW WOULD YOU COM­PARE THE VIN­TAGES? I think the 2014 is a lit­tle more ac­cu­rate in terms of aroma. It’s more pure, more pre­cise. It has a bit more struc­ture, more tan­nin, more dense, and a lit­tle bit more acid­ity in the bal­ance. I think it’s bet­ter than the 2013 for my taste, though you know wine is so sub­jec­tive and things can dif­fer from one per­son to the next.

HOW DO YOU MATCH YOUR PRICE POINT WITH SALES? SOME SAY THAT’S FINE IF THE CHI­NESE PEO­PLE WANT TO PAY FOR IT. Yes, but we sell 85 per­cent out­side of China. I did not set the price; it was the de­mand that set the

price, but I can give you the main pa­ram­e­ters that can jus­tify this price. Firstly, the cost is the most ex­pen­sive in the world. We work 4,000 hours per hectares per year, be­cause it’s all done by hand and we work plant by plant. That’s four times what we work in Bordeaux, and even if the salaries are smaller, the cost to make the grapes is big­ger. Then we have our small yield — four tons per hectare, which in­creases the cost of the grape, and you can’t get a higher yield with ripened grapes up there. Fi­nally, there are the Chi­nese food safety rules, which means a mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy lab­o­ra­tory on top of the reg­u­lar anal­y­sis lab­o­ra­tory, a ster­ile bot­tling room, and a lot of peo­ple in the cel­lar to man­age these new tools.

AND THAT MAKES IT OVERLY EX­PEN­SIVE TO MAN­AGE? Yes, and a big risk be­cause the com­pany will not make money for 10 or 15 years, and in China no­body will in­vest in a project with a turnover of un­der five years. It’s re­ally a long-term in­vest­ment. What re­ally pushes LVMH is, we are pro­duc­ing very small quan­ti­ties to be sold all over the world. We are of­fer­ing a wine that’s pas­sion­ate, with a new ter­roir to taste, and the fresh­ness and pu­rity of the Hi­malayas in Ao Yun.

AO YUN’S VINE­YARD IN ADONG, A RE­MOTE VIL­LAGE 2,500 ME­TRES UP IN THE HI­MALAYAN FOOTHILLS

HIS PAGE (FROM TOP): A BOT­TLE OF THE NEW 2014 VIN­TAGE, MAXENCE DU­LOU

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