How to explore Swiss wine country
Even the most devoted oenophile may be unfamiliar with the venerable local viticulture traditions that yield little-known but noteworthy wines.
Switzerland’s Lake Geneva Region is a perfect puzzle of graceful cities such as Lausanne, Vevey and Montreux, punctuated by dozens of fairytale villages. This Francophone swath is marked on the sophisticated traveler’s map thanks to its stunning Alpine scenery, clear blue waters of Lake Geneva and acres of chocolate so delectable it would make Willy Wonka’s mouth-water. Michelin-starred restaurants, fashionable boutiques and top-notch hotels add panache.
Even the most devoted oenophile may be unfamiliar with the venerable local viticulture traditions that yield little-known but noteworthy wines. Get ready to discover a most dignified Swiss wine, Chasselas.
Chasselas: A noble grape thrives on a steep slope
Several varieties of grapes are grown on the lakeside slopes between Lausanne and Montreux but Chasselas is the undisputed queen.
If you’ve never tasted Chasselas, you’re not alone. The Swiss drink nearly all that they produce leaving practically none for export. You’ll need to visit to sip this light-bodied, fruity white with a hint of sparkle. It’s elegant in its simplicity and highly compatible with local Alpine cheeses, the balanced acidity cutting through the richness of a traditional Swiss fondue or raclette.
The Lavaux Region
Chasselas grows in the distinctive tiered vineyards of the Lavaux region. Wine has been produced here since Roman times. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, so the vineyards are protected from development. This region enjoys the mildest climate in Switzerland with an abundance of sunshine, ideal for growing the regal Chasselas grape. The grapes are grown without synthetic pesticides.
Walking around the panoramic vineyards, which are dramatically and daringly situated on a steep hillside, is a dream. The Grand Traversée de Lavaux is a 35-kilometer paved walking trail with views of Lake Geneva below. Wine cellars and traditional pubs dot the trail, so there are numerous possibilities to stop and sample. The low alcohol content of Chassleas means you may drink plenty without losing your balance.
A once a generation wine festival
2019 is shaping up to be an excellent time to take a deep dive into the world of this imperial grape. This summer, the lakeside city of Vevey will host the Fêtes des Vignerons. The Winegrower’s Festival takes place only once a generation, approximately every twenty years. The festivities will be held in Vevey’s scenic market square from July 18 until August 11, 2019.
Organized by the Confrérie des Vignerons (Brotherhood of Winegrowers), an organization that has roots going back to the Middle Ages, the pageant was first celebrated in 1797 and last held in 1999. It is an open-air spectacle in a vast, temporary arena built for the 20,000 spectators who will attend each of the 20 performances taking place over the course of the festival. The arena is set against the gorgeous backdrop of Lake Geneva, the Alps and the vineyards.
Each edition of the festival is completely new and unique. The 2019 theme is about a year in the life of a vineyard. It will be performed by more than 1,200 singers and musicians and a cast of 5,500 costumed actors, all of whom are residents of Vevey and the surrounding area.
The show is under the direction of Daniele Finzi Pasca, a Swiss-born theater and opera director, who is known for writing and directing the show Corteo for Cirque du Soleil and for directing the closing ceremonies of the Turin XX Winter Olympic Games in 2006 and the Sochi XXII Winter Olympic games in 2014.
Throughout the Fête des Vignerons 2019, the spectacle will spill into the city streets from early morning until late at night. The city of Vevey will become a hub of entertainment and street performances as bars, wine cellars and restaurants open their doors and dozens of food and beverage stands are set up, with much of the focus on local wine and culinary specialties.