S otheby’s is delighted to present its first dedicated Moutai auction in London. Headlined by an extraordinary original wooden crate of “Sun Flower” Kweichow Moutai from 1972, ‘Vintage Moutai | Spirit of China 國之精粹｜半世紀茅台陳酩’ is the culmination of both the passion and enthusiasm of a single owner, who passed on his devotion through the generations to his grandsons in Brazil.
As well as the full crate, there are a further eleven single bottles of Kweichow Moutai from the early 1970s, each in remarkable condition for their age and still wrapped in their original tissue paper. This sale represents the opportunity to acquire some of the rarest bottles of Kweichow Moutai ever offered for auction outside of Asia, all of which come with impeccable provenance.
The bottles in this sale were originally purchased by Chef Tso. Born in Kiangsu, a city near Nanjing, which was famous for Three knives: Small scissors, hairdresser, Medium scissors, seamstress and Large knife, cook, Chef Tso was orphaned when he was 8 years old. It was at the tender age of 15 that his sister found him a job in a restaurant and from there he eventually trained to be a chef. As he grew up, he moved first to Shanghai, then Hong Kong, and then in 1958, at the age of 29, he departed for Brazil.
In São Paulo he worked at the three main Chinese restaurants in the city: Mandarin, Sino Brasileiro and The Golden Dragon, which he launched on the 3rd floor of Shopping Iguatemi. He was the highest paid Chinese chef during this time and had the opportunity to meet the famous artist Zhang Daqian, who gifted him a painting.
He took a short break between 1969 and 1970 when he considered changing professions, but decided his heart was still very much in food. That said, Chef Tso did not want to compete with his former colleagues and partners who were enjoying their own success, so he moved to Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais and bought the Yun Ton Restaurant.
In the first 5 years, he restructured the company, buying its headquarters and renovating the restaurant.
In 1972, US President Richard Nixon appeared on international television and declared that he had tried Moutai and very much enjoyed it. As a result, this triggered a huge increase in demand for the spirit at the Yun Ton Restaurant. With this in mind, Chef Tso asked his partner at the Shanghai Hwua Yuen restaurant in São Paulo, to place an order for some cases. In 1974 the order containing 5 crates of Kweichow Moutai arrived in Brazil. During this time, Chinese cuisine was becoming increasingly popular, and in the 1980s Yun Ton became one of the largest Chinese restaurants in Brazil.
In 2006, Chef Tso transferred his shares of the restaurant to his eldest son Wagner, with whom he had the most harmonious relationship, and his grandsons Alexandre and Steven.
The smooth transition to the future generations was indicated in the menu by the inscription “uma nova geração”, continuing to uphold the family tradition.
Chef Tso sadly passed away in 2015 leaving behind not only his legacy in Chinese cuisine throughout Brazil, but also a number of bottles of unopened Kweichow Moutai, many of which were still within their original paper wrapping.
Baiju is China’s national spirit, with Moutai being one of the most prestigious and well known brands. The state owned company Kweichow Moutai is both China's most valuable publicly-listed company and the most valuable spirits brand in the world.
“Sun Flower” Moutai holds a unique place not just in the Moutai distillery’s history, but also in that of China’s. The “Sun Flower” replaced “Flying Fairy” for the export branding during the cultural revolution. The “Flying Fairy” logo, originating from the Maogao cave drawings in Dunhuang, was categorized as one of the “four olds” and thus, deemed inappropriate to be continued to be featured on Moutai bottles.
“Sun Flower" Moutai was first introduced in 1969, with the last batch coming out into the market around 1983.