Where’s the beef? Moo-ving experience at Runaway Cow

(This article first appeared in my newsletter last October.)

Runaway Cow is China’s newest wine getaway. With a smart blend of rooms, cuisine and wine, this family owned operation near Yantai airport aims to provide visitors with a–excuse me–‘moo-ving’ experience.

China has no shortage of sprawling–and often empty–wineries, whether tributes to European architecture or attempts to do modern sophisticated looks.

Runaway Cow went for the latter. But I couldn’t help grin, as I walked the winding approach road, at the “cow horns”–two brown off-angle ovals atop an otherwise modern complex. They looked a bit goofy. In a good way. And were a perfect fit for the equally grin-inducing logo.

Runaway Cow pushes the winery side via hospitality, sensible given local wine sales in China have been a struggle despite major advances in quality. The venue will have 47 rooms: a first section is already open and a second–facing the vineyards at near ground-level–is almost done (see below). Add a Cantonese food focus, backed by the highly regarded restaurant Canton 8 from Hong Kong, a gym, a sunken garden and more.

My first visit was a cold call, two days before my slated appointment. I walked around aimlessly for about 10 minutes before Arthur Leung, whose father Thomas Leung is a driving force behind the project, corralled me for a quick tour, including the winery–where finishing touches are being added–and a sleek parking garage with glossy cement-polished floors that looked like something out of the Matrix.

We ran into his Mom in the hotel lobby and I realized I had spotted her in the sunken garden when I arrived. Ten minutes later we were among that vegetation, smelling rosemary and basil and poking tomatoes and chili peppers.

Then there are the wines. This area is overseen by Burgundy specialist Pascal Durand. The ultimate capacity will be about 300,000 bottles, says Arthur Leung, once all of the vineyards are on board.

We tasted a dozen wines before lunch that Sunday, with people from neighboring wineries bringing bottles as well, then headed for some of that tastiest dishes I’ve ever had at a winery.

The Chardonnay had ample fruit, a nice lively creaminess, even a slight nutty vanilla character. I was surprised it had zero oak.

Tank and barrel samples of Marselan and Cabernet followed. The Marselan tank sample was fresh and vibrant, with forest berry character, a nice savoriness and chewiness, and loads of tannins. The barrel sample was smoother and rounder. Cassis, smoke and dark berry, and a bit of umami.

The Cabernet tank sample poured deep purple. Dark fruit, pure and playful. The barrel sample was rounder and softer, with toasty oak notes and fuzzy tannins.

(The other wineries’ bottles included a juicy Longhu Chardonnay with tropical fruit and mineral character, an elegant Marselan by Tong Lili, with pure berry flavor, and a Petit Verdot-driven blend from new winery, Anuo, with peppery dark fruit I could drink all day.)

Runaway Cow sits at the base of a modestly sized mountain, with Lafite’s Longdai project directly opposite, separated by Mulangou Village, and winery Treaty Port a ten-minute walk north. Perhaps it’ll be–ahem–a runaway success.

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