In China’s Himalayas, a wine ‘flying above the clouds’

The country is set to become the world’s second largest wine consumer by 2021, led by its burgeoning middle class
A $300 bottle of wine sold in the U.S. and Europe is made in the unlikeliest of places: at the foot of the Himalayas in China, where farmers sing traditional songs while picking grapes. A stone’s throw away from Tibet, Ao Yun’s vineyards are located beneath the sacred Meili mountain at altitudes ranging up from 7,218 feet in the southwestern province of Yunnan. While wine consumption is soaring in China, it is not known as a major producer, but French luxury giant Moet Hennessy has bet on this remote location to show the Asian country can produce a first-class bottle of red. It took four years for the company to find the ideal spot in the vast country and the result was Ao Yun, Chinese for “flying above the clouds”, which debuted in 2013. “The place is magical, it has this wild side,” Maxence Dulou, Ao Yun’s estate manager, said as he carefully inspected the grapes at one of the vineyards. Mr. Dulou, 43, said he had “dreamed” of discovering a great “terroir” — the unique French term for the ground and climatic conditions in which grapes are grown — in China since his university days.“The Chinese are very creative and they are not afraid of change and that’s extraordinary because you can be the most creative in the world, but if you are afraid of change there is no creativity,” the viniculturist said. China’s appetite for wine has matured over the last 10 years, led by its burgeoning middle class. The country is set to become the world’s second largest wine consumer by 2021. China’s wine market was worth $71 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow 27% in the next five years to nearly $91 billion, according to research group Euromonitor. However, Chinese consumers are turning their noses up at local wines, as imported wine consumption grew over 17% year on year in 2017 while domestic wine sales plummeted for the fifth consecutive year. Chinese wine has had a history of inconsistent quality, but Mr. Dulou is determined to change the prejudice attached to the term ‘Made in China’.

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