Wine Country

Cerjo, parent company to cerjoUSA is in the middle of a little known section of Europe’s wine country.  Jacques J Marcotte wrote about Switzerland’s wine growing region in Sommelier News in October 2008.  It is definitely worth another read! Switzerland’s Vaud Attracting Interest When people first visit the region of Vaud in Switzerland, all too often they focus on how strikingly beautiful the vineyards are, almost suggesting that the wines themselves are only an afterthought and do not measure up to the beauty of their birthplace. It is a bit sad, considering the emphasis that has been put on improving the quality of the wines across the region in recent years. They remain relatively unknown around the world in part because of their small production and because of the high level of local consumption. So, few people outside of Switzerland ever have the opportunity to purchase and to taste the wines of the Vaud. Located on the slopes of the Lac Léman, the Vaud wine region has had a long and honored history, which was officially recognized in 2007 when UNESCO named the vineyards in terraces of Lavaux a “World Heritage Site,” the result of a fight initiated by local environmentalist Franz Weber in 1972 to protect the wonderful vineyards which are dominated by Chasselas production. The Region The Vaud canton has now four official regions, which are subdivided into 14 sub-regions and 28 AOCs, all this covering over 3,800 hectares (about 9,390 acres): Chablais (from the Latin Caput Laci or Head of the Lake) – 592 ha, where the Rhône becomes Lac Léman before becoming the Rhône again in Geneva (yes, the Rhône does start up in the Valais Alps and not in France), boasts the beautiful Château d’Aigle and its wine museum. The co-ops of Ollon and Yvorne have been doing great work and are now expanding into interesting red assemblage. Lavaux – 821 ha, has its 1,000-year old vineyards in terraces (the UNESCO jewel), overlooking Lac Léman and the French Alps across the lake. This area spreads from Château de Chillon near Montreux to the outskirt of Lausanne. Chasselas truly dominates here, and the most famous wines are from the AOCs of Dézaley, Calamin and St-Saphorin. La Côte – 2012 ha, lies west of Lausanne and almost runs to Geneva. It offers gentle slopes running down towards the lake. We again find here Chasselas-based wines, but there are also interesting reds, such as the excellent 2005 Servagin, a Pinot Noir from Henry Cruchon in Morges. Bonvillars, Côtes-del’Orbe et Vully – 414 ha, is a region made up of three sub-regions nestled against the Jura mountains towards France and along Lake Morat. They are closer to Burgundy, and this may explain the style of some of their wines. Christian Dugon in Bofflens (Orbe) has made great progress with both whites and reds. Grapes, Wines, Terroir Vaud has long been known as the land of Chasselas, a white grape probably brought in during the 12th Century by Cistercian monks, who established monasteries in Lavaux. Chasselas is still the king of the region and is planted on roughly 2600 ha, about 67% of Vaud’s annual production. This grape has adapted nicely to the terroir and what is seen as its weakness (its aromatic subtlety) may really be its strength, allowing the character of the terroir to show best. These wines work well with the local food, the perch and fera (whitefish) from Lac Leman. But Vaud is evolving, and there are now 34 different grapes raised in the region. Terroir is important in Vaud, and its influence is clearly seen in the Chasselas wines. In a recent tasting of two Chasselas wines, 2007 St-Saphorin “Les Déserts” from Domaine Didier Imhof in Rivaz (Lavaux) and 2007 La Colombe from Domaine La Colombe of Raymond Paccot in Fechy (La Côte). The St- Saphorin showed effervescence, excitement but limited structure on the palate; the Colombe showed less effervescence but more structure. Here we are: two distinct wines made from the same grape by two vintners only 30 km apart. The Federal Research Station of Changins has led the way and produced various grape crosses, both in white and red. An example of such a grape is Doral, a cross created from Chardonnay and Chasselas, developed to give more structure and balance. Doral seems to be tried everywhere in Vaud these days, and it certainly shows promise. The Gamay grape of Beaujolais has been around in Vaud for a long time and, in 1970, it was crossed with Reichensteiner (a German white grape) to make two distinct very dark grapes, the Gamaret and Garanoir. These are typically used in blends and they are now gaining in fame as they make well-balanced and structured wines, perfect companions to local game, so popular during the fall season. Some vintners are now experimenting with C-41, the forgotten brother of Gamaret and Garanoir. Pinot Noir is also coming along nicely, as seen in the wines of Morges. The Diolinoir is another example of a local grape, issued in 1970 from a cross between Rouge de Diolly and Pinot Noir. The result is a dark, firm wine which has the ability to age well. Trends The Canton de Vaud has had a long, complex wine history and tradition. It is after all a region showing 42 castles (some over 900 years old), which were all working wine properties, highlighting once again the wine tradition of the region. It is continuing to transform itself as a new generation of vintners comes into play and picks up where the earlier generation leaves off. L’Office des Vins Vaudois is leading the promotional efforts for the region and its vintners. It sponsors many events and knows where to concentrate its efforts, though there is not yet much talk about challenging the world export markets. As Mrs. Zimmerli from the OVV says, “Our production costs remain high, and the volume of topechelon wines remains limited (when looking at world markets). Now is not the time to chase this market, not yet anyway.” In 2004, local wine business powerhouse Schenk created Clos, Domaines & Châteaux. Perceived by some as just a marketing strategy, it brings 19 vineyards under a single banner, committing to a new standard of quality in both viticulture and enology. At about the same time, twelve independent vintners created Arte-Vitis, based on the philosophy of respect for the terroir, the four regions and the alwaysincreasing demand for quality from the consumer. Cruchon and Dugon are two leading members of this association. Most impressive is the work being done by large co-operative producer Uvavins, which leads efforts to bring world-class wines to Swiss consumers and works closely with sophisticated customers such as Nathalie Ravet (GaultMillau Sommelier of the Year 2007) of L’Ermitage de Bernard Ravet in Vufflens-le- Château (a Relais & Châteaux property). This has been a 20- year relationship to bring better wines to the market, and they now have a dozen different wines under the label, Le Vin Vivant de Bernard Ravet. Some interesting examples are: Sizane, an assemblage of six different red grapes, a beauty that will evolve probably over 8 to 10 years Trilogie, a blend of Chasselas, Doral and Pinot Gris One of the greatest joys in Vaud remains the privilege to visit specialized independent shops and learn from their owners who are focusing on small production vintners from the region. Such a place is Au Tastevin, a 41-year old shop situated on the Grand Rue of Morges owned by Olivier Cruchet. The people of Vaud love their wine and the culture attached to it. They probably have more celebrations all year long than any other wine region I have visited. Over the next few years, we will see continued growth and improvement in Vaud wines, and the secret will be finally out: they can make great wines in Vaud. As Nathalie Ravet says, “The trend towards reduced yield will accelerate over the next few years, leading to more availability of better quality wines.” The scenery is indeed spectacular, with most vineyards overlooking Lac Léman and the white peak of Mont Blanc in France, and the wines of the region are constantly improving. It is definitely worth a visit to enjoy all that this part of Switzerland has to offer Reprinted from the Sommelier News Volume 5, Issue 10, October 2008 Written by written by Jacques J Marcotte. Mr. Marcotte is a management consultant and investor in Le Du Wines, LLC in NYC