The Landscape of Swiss Wine

Yuhui….we did it! My new book on Swiss wines has just hit the shelves – real and virtual. That rather grand-sounding ‘we’ is just an acknowledgement that this one – like all of my books – is the fruit of a great collaborative effort. The team was composed of editor Richard Harvell and photo editor Kali Resler at publishers Bergli Books in Basel, plus all the wine-makers covered in the book (50 of them), many of whom supplied the gorgeous pictures – and me.

Vineyards of Lavaux, UNESCO World Heritage Site
The celebrated vineyards of Lavaux on Lake Geneva. a UNESCO World Heritage Site

This latest offering joins the other nine in my collection, which ranges widely from Mexican to foraged food and wonderful vegetables, interspersed with Tastes of Alsace and of Switzerland, honey and cheese. (Beady-eyed readers will note that there are 11 books on the shelf pictured below. That’s because, thanks to Bergli, there are 2 editions of A Taste of Switzerland, which they took on and continued to reprint without a break from 1992 till 2017.)

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Several questions may be popping into your mind: firstly, how come a book signed Sue Style that’s all about wine, with barely a mention of food? Wine puts in an appearance, of course, in both of my Alsace books and also in A Taste of Switzerland, and the wine component in my writing (for Decanter, FT Weekend, How To Spend It) has increased steadily over the past few years, alongside food and travel. But Book Number Ten is the first to be devoted exclusively to this delicious and – to me – endlessly fascinating beverage.

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Happy grapes basking in sunshine in the vineyards of Weingut Pircher in Eglisau, above the Rhine

It was a challenge, I freely admit – but I love a challenge. At regular moments throughout the researching/learning/writing process I reminded myself that after all, I had known nothing about honey and bees before embarking on Honey, From Hive to Honeypot and my knowledge of cheese was decidedly sketchy before I wrote Cheese, Slices of Swiss Culture. And then, in more general terms, people also ask: “Who buys books about wine?” (as opposed, presumably, to just drinking it…). Editor Richard Harvell asked the very same one when I proposed the project to him a couple of years back…but I persuaded him anyway (listen here to his interview on The English Show in Basel about how he came to commission the book).

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A winning collection of wines from Schlossgut Bachtobel in Weinfelden, Canton Thurgau

The question that invariably comes next is: why Swiss wine? Plenty of people are unaware that Switzerland is even a wine-producing country. There’s precious little of it and the opportunity to taste it outside the country is limited to Swiss Embassies, or to select tastings put on by Swiss Wine Promotion at places like 67 Pall Mall in London – or thanks to visionaries in the UK such as Joelle Nebbe-Mornod of Alpine Wines in Yorkshire/UK, who sells some of Switzerland’s best wines, many of them featured in my book.

As Dr José Vouillamoz, internationally renowned grape geneticist and co-author with Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding of the magisterial Wine Grapes, points out in his preface to my book: “With exports stagnating at around one percent…very few people outside Switzerland know that the Swiss have been making wine since before the Roman era…[And] among the few foreigners who have tasted Swiss wines, many have done so during a visit to the country and some reduce the country’s offerings to dull Chasselas and acidic Pinot [Noir].” 

The fact that there’s a rich and long-established wine-growing tradition in this tiny, landlocked alpine country is thus news to many people, even to seasoned wine-lovers. The quantities are tiny – note that the entire surface area under vine in Switzerland is the same as that of Alsace, or half that of Burgundy. What sets Swiss wines apart is their quality. The past fifteen to twenty years has seen a quiet but steady revolution in the Swiss vineyards as wine-makers have learnt that quality is the only way to go in a high-cost country such as theirs.

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The vineyards of Badoux in Aigle, where the famous Aigle Les Murailles (Chasselas) is grown

The other thing that sets Swiss wines apart – and one which makes tracking them down and tasting them so much fun – is their use of little-known grape varieties, some of them found exclusively in Switzerland. Give your jaded tastebuds a treat (there’s only so much Chardonnay a woman can take…) with such delights as Petite Arvine or Humagne Blanc from the Valais, Räuschling from around Lake Zurich or even the vanishingly rare Completer from Graubünden. And there are some wonderful surprises (and surprisingly good value) to be found in cool-climate Pinot Noirs from the northern cantons like Aargau, Zurich, Thurgau and even – yes – Baselland. You may even learn – as I did – to love Chasselas, which has got a new spring in its step and made extraordinary progress since the boring, bad old 1980s days of over-production and under-performance.

The book is available direct from the publishers, www.bergli.ch, or from bookshops all around Switzerland. Amazon also lists it, as a POD (Print on Demand – I’m curious to know how this works out, having no experience of this relatively new publishing development, so if you order one this way, please let me know what is your experience!).

I hope you will have loads of fun – with a little learning along the way – as you embark on your own Wine-Lover’s Tour de Suisse via the pages of The Landscape of Swiss Wine. 

~ STOP PRESS: CAVES OUVERTES THIS WEEKEND! ~

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The doorbell of Anne-Marie Schott’s winery in Twann, on the Bielersee

 

The Ascension weekend (usually the last in May) is the opportunity to visit many wineries – including plenty featured in my book – which throw open their cellar doors for the annual Caves Ouvertes or Open Cellar events. Have a look on the Swiss Wine Facebook page or search the Swiss Wine website (www.swisswine.ch) to find out which wineries you can visit over the Ascension weekend in the various wine regions all around the country.

Cheers…zum Wohl…santé!

 

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2 thoughts on “The Landscape of Swiss Wine

  1. This book is particularly timely for me, Sue, since we recently returned from a trip that included 4 days in Switzerland, where we tried plenty of Swiss wine. Two of those days were in Sierre, where we visited the Chateau de Villa twice — the wine bar one night and the restaurant the other. Our visit to the Valais, and particularly Sierre and Chateau de Villa, was spurred by some pieces you wrote about the area. The owner of the AirBnB we stayed at in Sierre used to be in the wine business, and she took us to nearby Salgesch to visit a couple of wineries. But besides those 2 wineries, we tried a lot of different Swiss wines at Chateau de Villa. It was an enjoyable experience, especially trying some of the unique varieties such as Petite Arvine, Humagne Blanche, Humagne Rouge, and Cornalin. All in all, I preferred the whites to the reds. And who knew that Chasselas could be so good (actually, I’d had some very good Chasselas before).

  2. I’m just sorry it didn’t arrive before your visit, Bob! But it sounds like you had the best time, discovering all kinds of grapes, mostly thanks to the Chateau de Villa – great place – and that you had a bit of a Chasselas revelation!

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