From a worldwide point of view, Switzerland is still a relatively unknown winegrowing area in Central Europe. Although Switzerland has the highest vineyards on the European continent, the areas under cultivation are much smaller than other wine producing countries.
However, Swiss wine, historically influenced by Italian and French viticulture, does not lack „dr nötige Qualität“ (en: the needed quality). The advantages of a good location produce quite a few good wines, although the circumstances for growing wine are rather difficult.
The geographical influence on Swiss viticulture
Climactic and geographic conditions play a large role in Swiss viticulture. Some vineyards are located on steep slopes with a 70% gradient so that all work in these vineyards has to be done manually.
There are many „Schwierigkeitä“ (en: difficulties) that need to be surmounted in order for wine to be grown in Switzerland. Problems with soil erosion on the slopes, the fact that large growing areas lie in the precipitation shadow of the Alps and the much dreaded Fön, a strong changeable warm wind, make winegrowing in this region a tough undertaking. On the other hand, there are long periods of sunshine that help balance out the more negative aspects of growing wine at an altitude of average 750 m above sea level.
Most of the winegrowing regions is Switzerland are in the West and Southwest of the country in the Valais, Vaud, Neuchatel, Geneva and the Three Lakes Region of Biel, Neuchatel and Morat. There are some more vineyards scattered around the cantons of Aargau, Zurich, Schaffhausen, Thurgau, Grisons and Ticino.
The Valais – the most producing wine region
The Valais with over 5000 hectares devoted to viticulture is the largest winegrowing region in Switzerland. As most Swiss wine is „sälber trunkä“ (en: drunk by themselves), ie drunk by the Swiss, there are countless small vineyards that are run privately or just as a sideline. „D Räbe“ (en: the vines) are often located on the southern slopes of the Rhone valley. Strong sun exposure on the slopes and the frequent Fön make artificial „Bewässerig“ (en: irrigation) a must.
The canton of Vaud, situated in the French part of Switzerland along Lake Geneva, is the next largest winegrowing area. 4000 hectares of vineyards are located in the four winegrowing regions of Bonvillars, Chablais, La Côte and Lavaux. Geneva grows wine as well; around 1300 hectares of vines are planted in mostly flat areas. The milder climate in this region makes Geneva the warmest viticulture region in „dr Schwiiz“ (en: Switzerland). The most important winegrowing commune in Switzerland, Satigny, is also in this area. 45 communes in this canton alone, grow 35 different wines. The southern most canton of Switzerland, the Ticino, is blessed with a Mediterranean climate and produces almost exclusively „Rotwii“ (en: red wine) on approximately 1000 hectares. The canton of Aargau, in the northern part of Switzerland, had its heyday of viticulture in the 19th century. Today, just 400 hectares of land are used to grow vines. The best vineyards are located on the steep banks of the Aare and Limmat rivers. The region is divided into seven growing regions and contains 70 communes. Many vintners only own tiny parcels of land.
Types of wine grown
Switzerland grows a wide variety of grapes; over 200 different types are approved for growing here. Red wine production is slightly higher than white wine. The two most important grapes cultured in Switzerland are the Pino Noir and the Chasselas, followed by Gamay, Merlot and Silvaner. In 1990, Switzerland developed a new system of classification. Prior to the new system, it was difficult for the end user to navigate the world of Swiss wines as the labelling was largely left to the discretion of vintners. Today, wines of the highest quality are labelled as category I wines with controlled designation of origin. Some particularly fine wines from priveleged sites may be labelled „Grand Cru“. Category II wines are superior table wines with designation of origin and category II are ordinary table wines.
Special and distinctive wines
An unusual wine called Vin de Glaciers (glacier wine) is produced in Valais. It is a traditonal sweet wine made from Reze, Humange Blanc, Petite Arvine, Ermitage and Malvoisie grapes. The 36 Plants wine is another rare wine from this region, so called because it was originally pressed from 36 types of grape. „Hützutags“ (en: nowadays), it is made out of various indigenous grapes, but is still a must try „Bsunderheit“ (en: speciality). The Ticino produces an interesting wine as well; the Merlot Bianco is a white wine pressed from red grapes. The Oeil de Perdrix from the Three Lakes Region is a popular pale Rosé that is pressed from Pinot Noir grapes. The Grisons, not to be outdone in speciality wines, produces a dessert wine pressed from the Completer grape flavoured with orange blossom and quince. Chasselat white wines are known for their elegance and smoothness and delight the palate with their „fruchtigi“ (en: fruity) mineral flavour for which Swiss wines are famed.
Learn Swiss German whilst enjoying a glass of wine
I cannot give you a better recommendation than this. Learning does not get any easier than by having a good chat with Swiss friends whilst enjoying a good dinner with some excellent wine. This is the perfect opportunity to learn and practice Swiss German.
Learn how to speak the language with our video course or take the intensive 30 day challenge outlined in our book “Swiss German in 30 days”. It is up to you.
|1||a dr nötige Qualität||the needed quality|
|3||sälber trunke||drunk by themselves|
|4||d Räbe||the vines|