Note: August 2022 move to Substack
Ellen Wallace on the landscape of Swiss wine: I had my first glass of Chasselas in Vevey in the early 1980s. I quickly fell in love and decided to learn about Swiss wine as I began to travel the country regularly from my base in Paris where I worked as a news journalist (French wine was part of my beat) and travel/food & wine writer.
Swiss wines in English, at home right here
That first Dézaley white from Lavaux has led me on a long, steady trip through this geographic but also cultural, historic and very human Swiss wine landscape. I moved to Switzerland in 1985 and have since published hundreds of articles, edited and translated wine books and written the popular Vineglorious! Switzerland’s Wondrous World of Wines. This blog is home to more than 1,600 articles I’ve written as I continue to learn about Swiss wines.
Lavaux meanwhile became a Unesco World Heritage site 25 years and in 2019 it holds again its once-in-a-generation Fêtes de Vignerons. The last one was in 1999. By any standards, this is one of the most extraordinary wine events in the world, centred around – but of course! this is Switzerland – quality grape growing.
Join me on my never-ending voyage to learn about Swiss grapes, vineyards, wines, wine as part of travel, wine paired with food. Work with me while we tease out the mystery of what lies behind a good bottle of wine, especially a Swiss wine.
Modern history of wine production, drinking
Wine is far more than a beverage. It remains interesting for me because the world of wine is continually changing, shifting. Switzerland is no exception. Wine has become popular, worldwide, at a rate that would have astonished anyone planting vines in 1918 – or for that matter, anyone planting in 1960, before the international wine trade exploded.
Production and consumption patterns have changed hugely: in 1960 France had nearly 24% of the world’s production by volume, but by 2016 this had fallen to 17%, according to a study done by the University of Adelaide. Meanwhile, the US went from 2.7% to 10.9, catching up with Latin American countries. China went from zero to 4%. Switzerland, meanwhile, a small and discreet but high quality producer, has held steady at about 0.3-05% of world production.
During those 55 years, French wine consumption dropped significantly, by nearly half, while in the US it rose fivefold. By 2010, Americans were drinking the same percentage, 11%, of world wine as were the French.
Swiss wines are contemporary, with strong roots
This is the commercial backdrop against which Swiss wine producers work. To survive, they must innovate, but they must also keep the best of their traditions.
Learning about Swiss wine means understanding these traditions while ticking along with the producers while they explore new methods and new disease-resistant grape varieties. Forget the clichés about who is best or most important and remain open to what is new. For in Switzerland, as elsewhere, this is where you find the most interesting contemporary wines and the outlines of a very promising future.