When Julius Caesar stopped Celtic Helvetians from moving to southern France in 58 B.C., Switzerland knew little about making wine. It made up for lost time under Roman occupation, until 400 A.D.
While staying in Gstaad, make sure you savour Swiss wines, rare finds once you re-cross the border. The production of this small country that exports a mere 1% of its wines accounts for 37% of its citizens' total consumption, with Italian wines in second place, French labels third. A recommendation that comes over crystal clear! Switzerland's vineyards are found in six different regions: the Three Lakes, Vaud, Geneva, Valais, Ticino and German-speaking Switzerland. The closest to Gstaad are Vaud to the west, Valais to the south. 26 cantons offer 62 "appellations d'origine" (AOCs). In descending order, the main grape varieties are Pinot Noir, Chasselas, Gamay, Merlot, indigenous and allogenic, giving wines 57% red, 43% white. Their diversity is due to a cool climate strongly influenced by the Alps, with wide variations in temperature, sunshine and rainfall. The country's unique Alpine soil with high minerality hosts vineyards at altitudes from 270 to 1100 metres, some amazingly steep, in tortuous and mountainous scenery. Today, an impressive 98% of Swiss vineyards pursue reasoned or bio production. Created in 1981 and owner of the Bourgeon label, Bio Suisse is the main organization advocating quality for today while preserving resources for future generations, defending animals, nature and biodiversity. It ordains organic fertilizers, vegetable and mineral preparations to protect against disease and pests, wider use of naturally disease-resistant varieties, delicate vinification, rare natural additives but no aromas or colouring. Julius Caesar would not be surprised that his conquest of Switzerland left behind a vine-growing heritage that became a source of livelihoods and centuries-old enjoyment of fresh fine wines, extremely versatile for food pairing. A votre santé!
Vineyards at altitudes from 270 to 1100 metres, some amazingly steep.