What Arvine en Capital gets exactly right
It’s all about the way your nose sniffs it, isn’t it? twitching like a rabbit to get a whiff of rhubarb or maybe wisteria in the air. And about the way your mouth lets it flow in, air and wine in a tight weave, moving together so that aromas and mouthfeel do an exotic dance, especially as you chew the liquid—
Oh wait a minute, that’s a wine geek talking about tasting Petite Arvine Friday evening in Fully, at the annual Arvine en Capital event. To be honest, I didn’t see or hear that, for this is one of the most pleasant little wine events around, perfect for people who are not wine geeks or snobs and who just want to learn more about wines made from one of their favourite grapes. My husband, who likes wine with his meals (sometimes before, sometimes after, too) and who does far less comparative tasting than I do, said at the end with a happy sigh, “low key, high quality”. That’s high marks from a regular guy kind of wine-lover.
Here’s why: with 22 wineries presenting two or occasionally three white wines (2017, 2018) on a Friday night plus Saturday at the school gym in their home village, this is a very relaxed, manageable wine-tasting event.
Do your homework!
All the charm you need is outside, for Fully is one of Switzerland’s most dramatically landscaped wine villages. Put this calendar on your event next year and ring it in red to remind you to take a 1.5- to 2-hour hike through the hilly vineyards beforehand. Do your homework first and gather information about the walk and the vineyard huts, called guérites, plus a map from the Sentier Didactic (Learning trail) web site. If you forget, once in Fully you’ll find printed information at the Fol’terres wine/terroir foods Pavillon, open daily from 10:000-20:00, which is a great stop in any event. Keep in mind that this is part of the 83 km cycling and 66 km hiking trail through the vineyards of Valais. The train stops in Martigny; buses to and from Fully are frequent.
Learn the basics of Fully’s geography and geology on your hike, for these play a crucial role in understanding the wines you’ll taste. The town of 8,300 is actually a collection of 8 old hamlets and 10 villages. It sits across the river from Martigny, at the elbow of the Rhone river, and is part of the Aiguilles Rouges d’Argentière mountain chain, so that you’ll find granite but mainly gneiss, loess – wind-blown – soils, and some of the limestone that makes up most of the vineyard base in Valais. We’re talking ancient history here, 500 million years ago, coupled with contemporary human history: the Earth and its vineyards and people in Fully, concentrated into some fine wines.
Find the named vine parcels among the lieu-dits, for example Follaterres and Les Claives, names that are like grapes’ family names here, many of them bearing the hallmarks of an old patois. Spellings vary from a less regulated time. Then match the names to the bottles you’ll taste later, grown on these bits of hillside.
The Rhone river, now far from the blue glacier where it was born, has picked up speed and depth by the time it reaches this long streamer of a town near Martigny. My semi-secret favourite river spot is just after the bend and the Fol’terres Pavillion: cross a little Rhone canal that hugs the hillside tightly, which you reach by crossing a small covered bridge. The water is turquoise, the white birches shimmer, wildlife is watching you and waiting while you study the vines. It’s a place for a moment out of time.
But Arvine en Capital is all about the wine made here, so let’s get back to the joy it gives. You can visit the big names, the wineries and producers everyone knows, like Marie-Thérèse Chappaz and Benoît Dorsaz and Alexandre Delétraz (a relative newcomer from Geneva). It would be silly to limit yourself to these, for Arvine en Capital is all about how well people make wine, their different attitudes and styles, but most importantly, it’s all about terroir and while I only made it to 8 stands, I suggest you do your best to try more wines than I did. Clearly, I have to go back next year.
Arvine, November 2019 picks