A winery in the centre of the city of Basel? An unlikely story – but true. There are several wineries in Basel Land, of course, but as you’ll know, Stadt and Land are two different animals, and woe betide anyone who confuses the two.
The winery, named Vinigma (subtitle: Why Not?), is situated just behind the train station. It’s the brainchild of Valentin Schiess, a native Basler who describes himself as “farmer and industrial gypsy, office oenologist and hands-on experimenter”. He has spent a lifetime in the wine business, first learning oenology and wine-making in Burgundy, then travelling the world to work with winemakers and coopers in Spain, Argentina and Australia. This was followed by a career in both the cash-and-carry (Metro) and retail (Coop) sectors. It’s been an interesting and enriching parcours. Above all, it has given him insights into the how and why of making and ageing wine, as well as the how and why of buying and selling the stuff.
In 2015 he struck out on his own. He owns a vineyard in Jenins, in the prime wine-growing Bünder Herrschaft region of eastern Switzerland; the grapes from these vineyards are transported to Basel and vinified in the Vinigma cellar behind the station. In addition, he has forged partnerships with top growers, one in Switzerland (Amédée Mathier in Salgesch in the Valais) and one in Argentina (Sebastian Zuccardi in the Valle de Uco). In both cases they grow the grapes for him under his close supervision, from which he creates unique cuvées of his own.
He travels regularly to his own vineyard in Graubünden, as well as to the Valais and Argentina, to oversee operations – which is why he’s quite elusive at the winery in Basel (visits are by appointment). Only when the finished wines measure up to his vision of what the wine should deliver are they permitted the distinctive Vinigma label, with its bold black and red lettering on a crisp white background.
He makes two whites: an elegant Sauvignon Blanc called Nanumy (ask him why; it’s complicated…) and a lipsmackingly delicious blend of those two great Valais specialities Petite Arvine and Humagne Blanche named Apriori (the etymology is also complicated), both of them grown in Salgesch/Valais.
The three reds from his own vines in Jenins – the ones whose grapes are vinified in Basel – are either Gamaret-Pinot Noir blends (Quintus and Aspermont) or pure Gamaret (Jeninser). “I love Gamaret!” he exclaims with relish and with the slightest hint of defiance, as if he’s expecting a challenge. Why so? It’s fairly unusual to hear people wax lyrical about this Swiss-grown Gamay Noir x Reichensteiner cross. [Note: Gamaret was created at the Swiss viticultural school Changins and approved for planting in the 1990s. Used either in a blend or increasingly on its own, it’s popular in Suisse Romande – Geneva, in particular, has espoused it – and slightly less so in the German-speaking part of the country. Wine growers value its resistance to rot, good colour, supple tannins and relatively low alcohol.] But then Schiess himself is pretty unusual. He likes to combine old-world practices with new-world savoir-faire (even – sharp intake of breath – using oak chips..) and manifestly loves a challenge.
The Mendoza wine (El Polizón), made in partnership with Zuccardi, is – of course – a Malbec. But if you’re used to the usual kind of blockbusting, alcohol-fuelled, barbecue-destined Malbecs from Argentina, prepare for a surprise: Vinigma’s is one of rare elegance and spirit. The next addition to the collection will be a Pinot Noir from a biodynamic grower in Oregon. Expect more to follow.
Considering what a short time Vinigma has existed, Schiess has been remarkably successful. He regularly submits his wines to Swiss, British and Japanese competitions, regarding these as a useful barometer of how he’s doing and a valuable source of feedback, and has scooped up several important awards. One of the biggest thrills came when Apriori took away the Vinissimo prize for the best Swiss white wine of all those submitted, at the 2017 Grand Prix du Vin Suisse. “[Awards are] a compliment to the quality of my small but fine selection of wines”, he says.
Open by arrangement:
+41 79 667 46 64