By Maggie Rauch
The city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan (South of the Clouds) province, sits at 1,900 meters (about 6,200 feet). One day that might mean interesting things for wine making, but right now it just means that the city is home to China’s national high-altitude training center for Olympic athletes. That base, bizarrely enough, is also home to one of the coolest hidden places to buy and consume wine in China.
The Haigeng National Training Base is about a 20-minute drive from the city center, a stone’s throw from Dianchi Lake, China’s sixth largest inland body of water, on the side opposite Kunming’s Western Hills. Until a few months ago, the first sign you could see of Haigeng from the road was a drab cement water tower that looked like the kind of place where one might brew performance-enhancing cocktails for weightlifters and swimmers.
Since being taken over by an American businessman who built a miniature golf course on the site, the water tower has been painted a much more playful bright yellow and transformed into one of the coolest places in China to uncork a bottle of wine. The tower is the centerpiece of the new Hello! Haigeng Mini Golf Park, which has a big restaurant on the first floor and a tiki bar on the second floor patio.
You enter the wine cellar–which I guess is technically a wine tower–with the permission of the proprietor, from a door next to the tiki bar’s VIP cabanas. Inside, brick walls, hardwood flooring and soft lighting give the place a cool and surprisingly rustic vibe. Sit on one of the cushioned benches and order a Syrah, and you might forget that you’re above one of China’s first mini golf parks, in the place where its top divers and soccer players train, inside a bright yellow water tower. Now sip your Syrah, remember where you are, and think about how surreal it is.
Edward Knapp, the North Carolinian who owns the place, is a designer and builder who specializes in using reclaimed materials. He says the tower was originally slated to be his office, but he decided on a whim to turn into into a wine bar. He stocks it with orders from the German superstore chain Metro, which carries wine from all around the world. He says he’s a little unsure how to market the place–it can fit about 12 people, and due to some slightly shaky ladder climbing involved with getting in and out, and the lack of a fire escape, he can’t have just anyone up there getting smashed unsupervised.
For now, the only way to get in is with his permission and with a helpful wine stewardess who will keep your glass full. And if you’re really nice, Knapp might let you up into yet another space above, a more casual spot furnished with bean bag chairs.
Maggie Rauch lives in Beijing and keeps a blog about the Chinese sports world, China Sports Today.
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