Maxence Dulou on Making Wine for Ao Yun | Wine Enthusiast
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Maxence Dulou on Making Wine for Ao Yun

Maxence Dulou grew up in Le Sauternais, France, and made wine in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chile and South Africa before moving his family to Shangri-La in China’s southwestern Yunnan province, where he’s estate manager and technical director for Ao Yun. We caught up with him to talk about managing four vineyards high up in the Himalayas, near the border with Tibet. —Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen

What was your first reaction when you were asked to move to the Himalayas and make wine?

I was more than happy: I could live my dream of participating in the discovery of unique and new terroir. I am a winemaker for [a] lot of reasons but mainly for creativity and meeting different cultures.

Some grapes on a vine.
Photo by J. Penninck

What are some of the special characteristics of the Ao Yun vineyards?

We have subdivided our 314 blocks into 900 subblocks based on different soils and climate. The terroir diversity makes our work more complicated, as it needs to be done 100% by hand, but it also permits us to build the perfect the blend each vintage, even if it is cooler or warmer than average.

What are some of the challenges unique to where you are?

When the mushroom season is here, it is sometimes difficult to find farmers to help us in the vineyard because they go high in the mountain with their family for a few weeks. Mainly they harvest caterpillar fungus, which has medicinal properties and has the highest cost per gram for natural medicine in the world.

How have things changed since you first arrived to Ao Yun?

We try to build long term relationship with the Tibetan farmers, keeping their tradition but also asking them to help us more consistently during the busy season. Also, before the tunnels were built we had to drive over high mountain passes with oxygen, which is no longer necessary.

How did your family adjust to living in Shangri-La?

During the last five years my family lived in Shangri-La at 3300 meters (10,827 feet) high; my kids went to Chinese school and my wife taught them French. When we arrived they were 3 and 4 years old so it was perfect timing for full immersion.

Some pretty awesome mountains with clouds.
Photo by J. Penninck

Other French Winemakers in the New World

Benjamin Calais moved from Paris to Dallas to work as an engineer, but his love for wine grew from hobby to vocation. He opened Calais Winery as an urban winery in 2008 and purchased his Texas Hill Country vineyard and facility in 2015.

After 138 years as an English-owned fruit farm, the land at Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, belongs to Frenchwoman May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, the former owner and managing director of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac, Bordeaux.

The Bourgeois family had generations of winemaking experience in Sancerre before venturing out to find similar terroir. In 2000, they established Clos Henri Vineyard in the Wairau Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand.

Philippe and Brigitte Subra moved to Mendoza, Argentina, in 1998 and bought a property that happened to have a vineyard on it. They replanted with guidance from another French winemaker in Argentina, Michel Rolland, and in 2003, Carinae Viñedos y Bodega was born. —Layla Schlack