The wines of Switzerland are not well known. As you can guess they don’t produce very much of it and most of it is consumed within Switzerland. Exports are calculated at only 2% and you are likely to find that 2% are in neighbouring Germany.
I have close friends who moved to Zurich, Switzerland in 2010 and I have been fortunate enough to visit them each year. I visit the local wine shops to study the producers, varietals and different regions of Swiss wine. Their shelf labels are especially helpful giving the names of the varietal(s) since they are not always shown on the bottles. A grape that causes confusion is Chasselas since it can have several regional names eg. Fendant (in Valais), Perlan (Geneva).
In all the years I have been visiting Switzerland, I had never been on a wine tour. I started looking months in advance and found only a few options. The most populated wine regions are the Valais and Vaud, located in the south west of the country, near Lake Geneva. I kept digging online and found http://www.wine-tours.ch. I was impressed with the website, the qualifications of its operator, Gian Carlo, and they offer a full day educational tour that sounded perfect for a wine nerd like myself! I was also intrigued that the tour takes place in the region of Graübunden, in the eastern part of the country (which I had never hear of) and 75% of their vine plantings are Pinot Noir.
With some planning, we found a way for my friend Katarina to join me for the day (she’s a busy girl as a ‘Haus Frau’ of four). We took the train from the Zurich HB to Sargans which was only one hour away. Gian Carlo from Wine Tours Switzerland, met us at the station with his vehicle and took us on a driving tour of the region, describing the terroir. What boggles my mind is how this part of Switzerland could grow so much Pinot Noir?
Graübunden is a micro-climate and it is not as high in elevation as you would expect, 500m above sea level. The Romans occupied the land and made wine here 2,000 years ago. Today, there are 420ha lying on calcarious soil and loose schist. The Rhine river runs through the region and sits at the base of the mountains, leaving room for west facing vineyards. Then further to the east are the alps that border Austria. Westerly winds are blocked my these alps creating a dry, warm wind that benefits Graübunden. It prevents rot on the grapes and prolongs the growing season. This wind is call a Föhn. My friend Katarina said its a running joke that if anything goes wrong, blame it on the Föhn!
Our agenda for the day would take us through the villages of Maienfeld, Jenins, Fläsch and Malaus (combined population of 6,000), a visit to two wineries and a stop for lunch.
The first winery was Davaz in Fläscher, the largest producer in Graübunden. Owned by two brothers plus they own a winery in Tuscany. Davaz makes a large portfolio of Swiss wines and we were treated to a sampling of eight of them, everyone of them outstanding! Gian Carlo presented the wines with a plate of local meat and mountain cheese. He sourced the sausage from a local producer, Alpen Hirt. On the label is a date, and if you type this date into his website you will be given information about the cow you are eating, her name, how many calves she had, where she grazed in the summer etc……. so cool! We tasted Riesling Silvaner, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiller and two vintages of Pinot Noir (recommend to age for 5 years).
When we saw the name Shiller on a label we were puzzled because we never heard of it before. Schiller is a blend of red and white grapes from the same parcel of land an often comes out pink in colour.
Our stop for lunch was at the Weinstube Alter Torkel in Jenins and the food was perfect; salad, risotto, wine and coffee. It was nice that Gian Carlo joined us. We really enjoyed his sense of humour and hearing about his career in wine, restaurants and how he came back to his home village in Graübunden to start his wine tour business.
Our last winery visit was at Obrecht, a small, husband and wife, biodynamic winery (6.5ha). Christian Obrecht is the 5th generation winemaker/owner. They produce sparkling wine, distilled spirits (Marc) and dry wines, including a notable a local variety called Completer and Trocla Nera, which is Romansh for Pinot Noir. Graübunden is in a trilingual part of Switzerland speaking Italian, Romansh and Swiss German.
Katarina and I did not go home empty handed! We bought six bottles, gained knowledge and an appreciation of this ‘undiscovered’ part of Switzerland producing quality wines. The day with Gian Carlo and his tour company was above and beyond expectations, we could not have been more pleased!