Stein und wein/ Roche et vin (translation: Stone and wine). Published simultaneously in German and French, 2018. Available directly from the association that created the book (see the link) or from Orell Füsli online and in some shops. CHF98
I don’t know when I was last so impressed by a book. It is lovely to look at, the kind of hefty tome that improves the quality of life of your coffee table. It was written and put together out of love by a group of 40-plus Swiss people from different parts of the country, with different languages and backgrounds – wine people, grape growers, soil experts, geologists and more. It took 10 years to come into print. The result is a gem that is rapidly becoming one of my most useful reference books. I hoped for Swiss quality design and printing, and I have it. Check out the contents.
Before you rush out to buy the book: this isn’t going to replace your favourite novel for bedtime reading.
It’s purpose is to gather up several scientific threads from several fields and make them accessible to a lay public. The subject: how geology has formed the landscape that gave birth to Swiss vineyards and thus Swiss wines and the impact of all of this on contemporary wines. The endless discussions in the wine world about what “minerality” in wine means and whether underlying rock structures contribute to this sparked the project, but it quickly evolved into a much richer effort to understand the complex relationships between geology, vines and wine in Switzerland. The authors don’t set out to convince you so much as to educate you.
Switzerland is home to two of Europe’s most important rivers, the Rhine and the Rhone, it has two major mountain chains running through it, the Alps and the Jura, and it has a remarkably varied collection of wines that spring from the many soils and microclimates that are linked to the geology of the country. The surprise is not that someone thought to write a book on this, but that someone had the courage to undertake such a potentially massive project. Swing into action a group of people who are used to Swiss organization.
I was hoping to write a review sooner, but this is a book you need to live with for a while before you know what it means to you. My first reaction was that I would have a massive amount of technical translating to do every time I sat down with the book, and that is not appealing.
I was wrong because the authors have worked hard to make the information accessible and reduce the stress caused to some of us by scientific language. This week I found myself reading a section about an experiment carried out in Graubünden a few years ago by two wine producers, Irene Grünenfelder and Daniel Marugg, who live at two ends of the Bündner Herrschaft. They decided to take 500 kg of each other’s grapes and vinify them to see which mattered more, the winemaker’s influence or the terroir. Terroir won out! to no one’s real surprise.I was looking this up after visiting the area and asking a winery in one of these villages if they thought there would be much difference between a Pinot Noir from there or this other village, given that Pinot Noir picks up the imprint of the terroir quite well. They thought probably the difference would be minimal. After comparing several of these villages Pinots at the Robert Parker Matter of Taste in Zurich last weekend, I’m more convinced than ever that even in small areas, terroir differences matter. Roche et vin backs that up.
Another day I was scrambling to remind myself how schist affects wine, something I thought I more or less understood. I was quickly lost among the pages, but happily so, in a detailed section about soil types and how they were formed. My former science teachers would be astonished. The book is that readable.
The book is in fact a collection of books. The main volume opens with a charming message that people who drink wine are individualists and thus we all have our own ideas about what constitutes terroir – and we all have a great deal to say about it when sharing a wine. “The following chapters would like to contribute something to these discussions.” Such a typically quiet and self-effacing, gently humorous Swiss approach!
It resembles a fine schoolbook in some ways, with coloured background boxes of subset information and maps and diagrams and explanatory photos aplenty. The 10 regional volumes have a wealth of detail I’ve never seen elsewhere and yet there is no false promise of answers about the role geology plays in creating our wines. Instead, we’re given informed, interesting food for thought, information to discuss with another wine-lover over the next glass.
I’ll be reading this for years; what a nice thought.