Unless you’ve been to Switzerland or a few locales near its border with France or Germany, there’s a good chance you’ve never tasted Swiss wine. As a result, many people assume that Switzerland doesn’t have a wine industry, but that is not the case at all.
Swiss wine makers, by design, are small producers each making only about 30,000 bottles a year. The government regulates production, thus ensuring quality and attention via limited production.
First and foremost, we’re told, the Swiss government wants to make sure there is enough affordable wine for their own 8 million residents.
Exploring Switzerland’s Lavaux Wine Region
We first experienced Swiss wines in the Lavaux vineyards, a region in the canton of Vaud that, in 2007, was named a UNESCO World Heritage region because of the magnificent terraces constructed by the Catholic Church nearly 1,000 years ago. Located on the shore of Lake Geneva in the French-speaking side of Switzerland, Lavaux is indeed a place to be protected and cherished.
The picture to the left doesn’t do justice to the pitch and steep angles of the vineyards, but if you walk them on an unseasonably warm summer day, as we did, you’ll gain greater appreciation for the hard work required of grape growers in this region.
Lavaux has eight appellations, which is pretty impressive for an area of just about 800 hectare or 2,000 acres. It’s signature grape is the Chasselas, which is now grown elsewhere, but is original to Lavaux. If you enjoy a good fondue, Chasselas is considered the perfect pairing.
We learned about Lavaux and Swiss wines in a wonderful attraction called Vinorama, which opened in 2010 in a former wine cellar. In addition to opportunities to sample up to 250 labels of Swiss wines, along with some lovely Swiss cheeses, Vinorama provides a detailed history of grape growing in the Lavaux region via a multi-dimensional video presentation.
Valais – Switzerland’s Largest Wine Region
In all fairness to the lovely people we met in Martigny, we should also give a shout out to the canton of Valais, which is the largest wine region in Switzerland. Although not a World Heritage Site, Valais is a rich agriculture region also known for its apricots, chestnuts and asparagus.
The medieval walled city of Saillon – a treat in itself – is surrounded by vineyards and is indeed home to the world’s smallest vineyard. The story was not entirely clear to me, but the vineyard, with just three vines, is owned by the Dalai Lama.
Again, some things are just lost in translation, but I don’t think the Dalai Lama devotes a lot of time or attention to the vines. However, the pinot noir and fondant grapes from these vines are pressed and bottled with others from the region, then sold for the benefit of disadvantaged children. I think that would please His Holiness.
So let’s lift a glass to the hard working growers of so many products around the world. But to fill that glass with Swiss wines, you’ll need to book a trip to Switzerland, right away. You’ll not regret it.